Preah Vihear Temple: Redrawing Jungle Lines
Image Credit: Scott Howes

Preah Vihear Temple: Redrawing Jungle Lines


PREAH VIHEAR – In the dusty frontier town of Sra Em, 27 kilometers from the Thai border and the disputed Preah Vihear Temple area, the sense of Cambodian nationalism is perhaps more palpable than anywhere else in the country.

In the many restaurants and beer gardens that line the town’s two roads, off-duty soldiers drink to chants of “Preah Vihear! Kampuchea!” Army camouflage is en vogue, with caps, vests and other military attire donned proudly by the town’s residents.

A tourist policeman at the temple ticket office wears a hat emblazoned with “ICJ 1962” – a reference to the International Court of Justice verdict that recognized Cambodian sovereignty over the temple more than 50 years ago.

The temple itself – a magnificent, crumbling Angkorian wonder perched atop a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains – was placed within Cambodia borders on French colonial maps dating back to 1907. These maps were used successfully by the Cambodian delegation at the 1962 hearings – the results of which have long been a sore point for Thai nationalists.

In 2008, Cambodia ignited a tinderbox in Thailand, applying to have the temple listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site as political turmoil engulfed its northerly neighbour.

Clashes occurred on the border and continued intermittently for the next few years, culminating in intense fighting in 2011 that left 18 dead and thousands displaced.

Thailand does not dispute Cambodia’s claim to the temple, but both sides are now contesting 4.6 square kilometers of adjacent land at the ICJ after Cambodia requested an interpretation of the original ruling in 2011.

Without an ICJ verdict, there could be “unfortunate consequences which would prevent the two states from living in a friendly, peaceful and cooperative environment,” Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told the court at the opening of proceedings on Monday.

With troops remaining entrenched on both sides of the border, local residents say they will wait for government orders to evacuate if fighting breaks out again.

May 10, 2013 at 00:00

Don't be fooled by the architecture and the language name. It is simply naming a language and architecture after the modern people and not the ancient group that used it. If you have done any research into the actual history of Cambodia, you will realise there was no such group known as "Khmer" until the 14th century, well after the construction of both Preah Vihear and Angkor.

The false history of Thai people coming from China is just a myth. Thai people are a mix of Tai and Siamese. Tai came from southern china. Siamese came from the malay peninsula. Thai people are Austro-Tai. If you actually look at the history and the time line of the country you will see that the people of Lanna are the real Tai people. Thai identity was altered to be believed to be 100% ethnic Tai in 1923. 

Main stream history regarding SEA is so messed up and does not include findings in the last 100 years (especially chinese records of Zhou Da Guan) which is causing conflict between the nations. 

There are no records of a "Khmer" people that far back in history. Even their own royal chronicles do not go that far back. 

Don't confuse Chenla and Khmer. Khmers adopted Chenla script and culture but never created it.

May 8, 2013 at 23:23

Preah vihear temple is the Cambodian temple with written language of cambodia. How can you say its Thailand for 550 years before French hand to Cambodia. Please check your story straight.

May 2, 2013 at 20:26

I was at the temple in 2011 literally just weeks after the fighting. We had a military escort around the complex, it is clearly Khmer archictecture and NOT Thai. The Khmer people are also the original inhabitants of that area. Thai people migrated a lot later and came from southern China.

Michael Weldon
April 30, 2013 at 00:54

This is a very biased article.  The Siamese-French treaty specifically identified natural borders, such as the cliff along the Cambodian side of the temple grounds.  Long after all parties agreed to the natural boundries, the French chartographer drew the Preah Vihear border to erroneously place the temple in Cambodia.  Thailand is especially incensed at this theft, because when the French Landed in Cochin China, the border with Siam was at Siam Reap and Angkor had been Siamese for over 550 years.  Technically, Angkor has only been Cambodian since 1953, when the French violated their agreement to return those provinces to Siam.

henry ford
April 21, 2013 at 08:27

What can China possibly contribute to Cambodia and Thailand if tensions rise after judgement is rendered? Ironically, it's China that should learn from these 2 small nations about internationally based arbitration instead behaving lawlessly.

April 20, 2013 at 23:11

It is already a good thing that both countries agreed to bring this dispute to the ICJ. This dispel the preconceived idea that sovereignty issues cannot be setlled fairly in UN-sponsored court.

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