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Whose Preah Vihear Temple is it, and what does it matter anyway?


Photo from Wikipedia

Who owns the Preah Vihear Temple and surroundings?

Cambodia does.  On June 15, 1962, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that, ‘the Court, by nine votes to three, finds that the temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia.’  The Cabinet of the time made a resolution and announced that Thailand, as a member of the United Nations, accepted the ICJ ruling.

Although Thailand protested and reserved the right to request a revision of the ruling as allowed by Article 61 of the Statute of the Court within 10 years after the date of the ruling, Thailand has never officially made any application for such a revision, nor made any request for the Court to clarify the meaning or scope of the judgment, as allowed indefinitely under Article 60.

So where have the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the Democrat Party and the nationalists been?  After a lapse of 46 years, they still insist on reserving this right.  Such a dogged stance can never make any difference, except by showing their own uncivilized minds.

The PAD and the Democrat Party say that Thailand has always insisted that the watershed line of Phanom Dongrak Mountain Range was the borderline between Thailand and Cambodia.  Accordingly, Preah Vihear is on Thai soil.  The ICJ, however, already addressed this issue in its judgment, saying that the watershed had nothing to do with the temple, as the Preah Vihear dispute had to be considered in accordance with the 1907 Franco-Siamese boundary treaty (see details below).  And Thailand has never raised the issue of the watershed line in the past 46 years.

The PAD and the Democrat Party say that Cambodia won the case, but owns only the temple, and not the territory on which the temple is situated.  What a distorted and craftily arbitrary reading of the ICJ’s judgment!  Please read and reread the judgment.  Anyone with an honest and righteous mind will never read it that way.

Who built and owned the Preah Vihear temple in the first place?

The Preah Vihear Temple was built at the beginning of the 9th century, and construction continued through the reign of King Suriya Woraman the first, 1002-1050, to be finished in the reign of King Suriya Woraman the Second, 1113-1150, when the prosperous and strong Khmer empire ruled the region 300 hundred years before the emergence of the Sukhothai Kingdom (see The Preah Vihear Temple: Politico-historical Case Study and Nationalism by Charnvit Kasetsiri, p.2)

In a nutshell, the ancestors of the Khmer people built and owned the Preah Vihear Temple in the first place.

Is it true that the Preah Vihear Temple used to belong to Thailand, and was lost to Cambodia by the ICJ judgment?

Originally, the Preah Vihear Temple belonged to the Khmer (see above).  In 1431, during the reign of the King Chao Sam Phraya, the Ayutthaya army defeated the Khmer empire and seized Angkor Wat, which was then the capital. The Khmer had to move the capital to Udong Meanchay and then Phnom Penh.  Since then, Battambang, Srisophon and Siem Reap, as well as the Preah Vihear Temple, were annexed to Siam.

On March 23, 1907, Bangkok’s King Rama V signed the Franco-Siamese boundary treaty with the President of France, agreeing to exchange Siam’s Battambang, Srisophon and Siem Reap, as well as the Preah Vihear Temple, for the French-occupied Chantaburi, Trat provinces and Dan Sai in Loei.  Once independent from France, Cambodia claimed the Preah Vihear Temple, based on the Treaty,.

In a nutshell, the Preah Vihear Temple once belonged to Siam from the reign of the Ayutthaya King Chao Sam Phraya onwards because of the Siamese victory over the Khmer Kingdom.  But Bangkok’s King Rama V returned it to France who colonized Lao and Cambodia.  If there ever was a loss of Siamese territory, the land was lost since 1907, as the ICJ made its ruling in line with the Franco-Siamese Treaty.

Does Cambodia’s registration of the Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage affect the Thailand-Cambodia boundary?  If so, how much?

The Cambodia’s registration has nothing to do with and has no effect on the boundary dispute or sovereignty between Thailand and Cambodia, as Article 11-3 of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention says that, ‘The inclusion of a property in the World Heritage List requires the consent of the State concerned. The inclusion of a property situated in a territory, sovereignty or jurisdiction over which is claimed by more than one State shall in no way prejudice the rights of the parties to the dispute.’

The legal demarcation of the boundary between Thailand and Cambodia is assigned to the Mixed Border Delimitation Commission which was set up by both countries and has nothing to do with the listing of the Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage site.

Why does Thailand not make a joint request with Cambodia to list the Preah Vihear Temple?

Thailand has proposed to Cambodia to make a joint request to UNESCO for the listing, but Cambodia has consistently refused, citing the ICJ judgment and claiming that it would not be able to account for such a joint request to the Cambodian people.

If the Preah Vihear Temple is listed as a World Heritage, what would be the pros and cons for Thailand?

UNESCO would provide personnel and budget for the restoration of the Preah Vihear Temple and its surroundings, as well as serve as a worldwide advertisement for the temple as a world-class tourist attraction on par with Angkor Wat.

However, due to the inaccessible sheer cliff and the present lack of proper infrastructure and facilities on the Cambodian side, access could only be made via Thailand.  The possible future development of a cable car to reach the temple from the Cambodian side along with investment in infrastructure and facilities including an airport, roads, electricity, water, hotels, etc., would still take years or even decades.

So the listing would benefit Thailand’s tourism industry as well as the friendship between the two countries.

The scare-mongering by the PAD and Democrat Party within Thai society, alleging that Thailand is poised to lose territory or sovereignty, is therefore just a cheap and dirty political trick which would not do any good to anybody.

The Central Administrative Court’s injunction to suspend the Cabinet resolution and any further action supporting Cambodia’s request, as prompted by the PAD complaint, will only exacerbate the problem and damage.  Hopefully, the Thai people will in the future remember this and hold accountable the PAD and the Democrat Party after the damage has already been done.      

Related news:

Preah Vihear as the last struggle, how history will remember you

Reductio ad Absurdum



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