Preah Vihear – a Non Negotiable Item


Ever since June 2008, the Preah Vihear issue has been one of the main topics covered by the Khmer and regional media, but as media reports, they lack the necessary historical perspective that is paramount to accurate understanding of the problem. Reminding rightfully that the Preah Vihear Temple was «awarded to Cambodia by a 1962 ruling of the International Court of Justice» does not help much to understanding the case and adding that « but the Court failed to rule on the border demarcation» is nothing less than a masterpiece of disinformation. For the present situation at the Khmer-Thai border is indeed the sole result of Thailand’s about-faces and power politics.

The Preah Vihear problem started in June 1954, when Thai troops were sent to occupy the Temple which led to the breaking off of diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms. After five years of unfruitful negotiations, the Kingdom of Cambodia decided — with the agreement of the Thai Government — to bring the case before the International Court of Justice of The Hague on October 6, 1959.

In an article published in Kambuja in 1967, then-Prince Sihanouk reminded: « As for Thailand, is it really necessary to explain once again that, before we submitted the Preah Vihear Case to the International Court of Justice (I.C.J.), we had proposed to the Thai Government that this sacred fane should be jointly administered by our two governments on the sole condition that Thailand should officially recognize Cambodia’s sovereign rights over this “high place”. The Bangkok Government however, flatly declined to entertain such a proposal, but agreed that the case should be submitted to the International Court OfJustice at The Hague.»

«In the course of the ensuing months, when the case was being examined by the Court, the Thai representative, Prince Wongsamahip, proposed that both parties should undertake not to contest the verdict, whichever way the case might go, to which Cambodia solemnly agreed

«Following the decision by the Court confirming Cambodia’s sovereign rights over this temple, the Thais ignored the undertaking they had given, however, and refused to accept the Court’s decision».

On August 6, 2010, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was quoted as saying to his followers «If you’re talking about wanting it back [the Preah Vihear Temple], I have no dierent desire as you guys. We lost the temple in BE 2505 (1962) during Field Marshal Salit [Thanrat]». Somehow, this statement looks like an explicit and official recognition of the 1962 ruling of the ICJ, as far as the sovereignty of Cambodia over the Temple is concerned.

However, pretending not to question the Cambodian sovereignty over the Temple anymore, Thailand rather claims a 4.6 square km plot of land surrounding the Temple asserting that «the Court failed to rule on the border demarcation». Although this assertion can be read in nearly every report about the issue — including in Khmer media — it is a jewel of disinformation.

Back in 1954, and later before the Court, Thailand pleaded that the maps drawn by the Franco-Siamese Commission to delimitate borders between Thailand and Cambodia in 1904-1907 did not respect the watershed line in this specific area of the Dangrek Mountains where the Preah Vihear Temple is located. This very same argument is now used again by the Thai Government and is widely spread by the media to support the idea that the so-called «border issue» is a legal case to be solved between Thailand and Cambodia.

The Preah Vihear issue was and still is to be regarded as a unilateral denouncement by Thailand of the 1907 Border Treaty between France and Siam, and, more specifically, of the maps annexed to the Treaty. The ensuing dispute between Cambodia and Thailand was judged as such by the ICJ. In the merits of the judgement, page 32, the Court ruled: «Even if there were any doubt as to Siam’s acceptance of the map in 1908, and hence of the frontier indicated thereon, the Court would consider, in the light of the subsequent course of events, that Thailand is now precluded by her conduct from asserting that she did not accept it. She has, for fifty years, enjoyed such benefits as the Treaty of 1904 conferred on her… It is not now


open to Thailand, while continuing to claim and enjoy the bene$ts of the settlement, to deny that she was ever a consenting party to it.

The Court however considers that Thailand in 1908-1909 did accept the Annex 1 map as representing the outcome of the work of delimitation, and hence recognized the line on that map as being the frontier line».

From these extracts, and more specifically the last sentence, the ruling was obviously not only about the Temple itself, it was about the border delimitation as resulting from the maps drawn in 1907 by the Franco-Siamese Commission. It is not only an explicit but it is most of all a de jure recognition of the borders as they appear on the maps.

Furthermore, in 2000, the Kingdom of Thailand and the Kingdom of Cambodia signed a Memorandum of Understanding of which article 1 stipulates: «The survey and demarcation of land boundary between the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Kingdom of Thailand shall be jointly conducted in accordance with the following documents:

…(c) Maps which are the results of demarcation works of Commissions de Délimitation de la Frontière entre l’Indo-Chine et le Siam (the Commissions of Delimitation of the Boundary between Indo-China and Siam) set up under the Convention of 1904 and the Treaty of 1907 between France and Siam, and other documents relating to the application of the Convention of 1904 and the Treaty of 1907 between France and Siam».

These maps are now flatly dismissed by Thailand in every bilateral talks about the Preah Vihear issue, in blatant violation with its prior international commitments and despite they are the only available and internationally recognized documents defining the borders between the two countries. Instead, Thailand wants to impose its own maps drawn along the watershed line, in full contempt of the 1962 ruling of the International Court of Justice.

Then-Prince Sihanouk used to experience Thailand’s about-faces. In the same 1967 paper he also wrote: «It is worthy of note, therefore, that, after the Thais had initially agreed to recognize the competence of The Hague Court and had later undertaken to abide by its verdict, the Bangkok Government failed to observe this undertaking, and refused to accept the Court’s decision». The same stands true today. After Thailand

formally agreed that the boundary demarcation between the two countries should rely on the 1907 maps and all related documents, it just unilaterally contends that those maps cannot be used.

The Thai’s agenda was genuinely revealed by Puangthong Pawakapan, a Thai assistant professor in international relations at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, in an interview to IPS on August 3, 2010, «To solve the territorial dispute, both sides have to be sensitive to each other’s concerns. There has to be give and take». How can a university professor ignores that, as a matter of principle, there can be no

more «give and take» once a legal case is ruled? This simply proves that what is widely considered a «border conflict» is in reality a political issue in which a powerful country uses military means to put a weaker neighbor under threat.

Referring to the Soviet Union, President John F. Kennedy once said: «We cannot negotiate with those who say: What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable». On June 25, 2008, when he was then an opposition leader, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva unequivocally said that «Thailand had never accepted the map that Cambodia presented to the World Court in 1962». He also added that «Thailand intended to seek the return of Preah Vihearwhen the opportunity arose“». Nothing could be clearer. In this regard, does it mean that, for the sake of peace, Cambodia is compelled to negotiate what is legitimately and legally hers? Is it really what international law is about?

If, otherwise, ASEAN is really willing to help broker a peaceful settlement to the conflict, within the legal frameworks of existing conventions, treaties and agreements between Cambodia and Thailand, the first step would surely be to find a way to enforce the 1962 ruling of the International Court of Justice of the Hague, because it is not the 4.6 square km of land surrounding the Temple which is at stake: it is the Judgement itself that is being dismissed by the Abhisit’s administration.


About blunttalk

Only seeking Fairness in all topics
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