Local Thais and Cambodians want peace back at Preah Vihear

Representatives of local Thais and Cambodians along the border at Preah Vihear Temple have asked the National Human Rights Commission to help local people affected by the border dispute.

On 13 Sept, representatives from both sides of the border and the People’s Empowerment Foundation held a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.

Sang Youn from Cambodia’s Oddar Meanchey, whose young son was shot and burned by Thai soldiers after he trespassed into the disputed area while collecting forest products, said through an interpreter that he was not angry with the Thai soldiers, but he wanted both countries to bring peace back to the border.

Wisit Duangkaew, a local Thai from Bhumisarol Subdistrict, Kantharalak District, Si Sa Ket, said that the problems were not the fault of people of either country, but of their governments.

‘It’s not my fault or the Cambodian people’s.  But it’s the rules which have been set up by the governments to bar us from maintaining our relationship as it used to be.  People on both sides could see eye-to-eye in the past.  Now soldiers have been deployed instead.  I wish we could return to being brothers and sisters again,’ he said.

A recent meeting on 9 Sept in an attempt to address the impact of the closure of the border was obstructed and eventually cancelled by a group of people who called themselves patriots.

‘The government should listen to several groups of people, not only this group of patriots, and should look at the people living in the area,’ Wisit said.

Pranom Buaton, a clothing vendor at the border, said that since the border closure in 2008 her family had been severely affected as she could not open her shop and her stock of clothes had become outdated and she had to distribute them among relatives and neighbours.  Her daughter, who was a student nurse in Khon Kaen, almost failed to finish her studies for lack of money.      

‘I had to come to work as a house maid in Bangkok for several months at 6,000 baht a month,’ she said.  She returned to her province just two months ago after her daughter graduated and, she hoped, would be able to help with the burden as the youngest child was studying in high school in Si Sa Ket.

Chit Phanthob, who sells consumer goods like soft drinks, food, rice, detergent, soap, and toothpaste at the border, said that before the closure she traded about 40,000 baht a day, but she faced losses once the border was closed.

She then rented land to grow rice, and was hired as a general labourer.  She had to carry her ID card every time she went to the paddy field because the authorities were very strict on checking it.

‘There is a group of people who created this situation.  We have petitioned the provincial governor and the media to pay attention to us.  They said that they would find a new place for us, but nobody knew where.  Now I want the old place reopened.  We want to trade and have peace with our Cambodian relatives,’ she said, adding, ‘the people who call themselves a group of patriots came from Bangkok.  But we are the people who live here.’ 

On 14 Sept, Chalida Tajaroensak, Director of the People’s Empowerment Foundation, and the representatives met with Amara Pongsapit, Chair of the National Human Rights Commission.

Chalida said that her group asked to the government through the NHRC to find a new place for the locals to run their cross-border businesses.

‘So far, the negotiations have been obstructed by a group of people in the province who received information from a people’s network in Bangkok.  The locals have been affected as they cannot trade or communicate with people in Cambodia.  And they cannot move to relief spots because there are already traders there.  So they want the government to find a new place for them.  We hope that we will get a positive reaction from the government,’ she said.



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