Archive for June 22nd, 2008

Week 565 – 2008-06-22: Preah Vihear in the Headlines

Posted on 22 June 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 565 |

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The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 565

This time I write from Thailand, where I have to spend some time in a hospital. So I read every day two Thai newspapers, both published in English. And every day there is something about Preah Vihear. Thailand is in deep political trouble again. The People’s Alliance for Democracy – one of its leaders is the popular former mayor of Bangkok, retired Major General Chamlong Srimuang – is demonsstrating since weeks. Finally, on Friday 20 June 2008, about 25,000 people surrounded the Government House, demanding the resignation of the prime minister.

There are a number of different issues which motivates the People’s Alliance for Democracy, some of which are the following:

  • The secretary-general of the Office for the Prevention and Suppression of Corruption, Mr. Sunai Manomai-udom, had been called by the police for an investigation, being accused of having defamed the former, ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, as he had insisted to continue investigations of alleged corruption, but he refused to present himself to the police: “I have fought this practice of abuse of power, to establish that the use of state power must be within the law, and those who have the power cannot use it against any individual.” I response to his refusal to present himself to the police, an arrest warrant was issued to detain him – but this warrant was thrown out by the Appeals Court.
  • There are difficult discussions in the press about non-transparent purchases of firefighting trucks, and the plan to lease one hundred buses for Bangkok, without public bidding.
  • More than sixty of the 200 senators filed a complaint with the National Counter Corruption Commission against the prime minister, after the government refused to answer their questions, though this group of senators point to Article 275 of the Thai Constitution which obliges the government to respond.
  • The chief of the National Police was was removed from his position, and a brother-in-law of the former ousted prime minister was moved to the position of deputy police chief, so that the would become the next chief of the police.
  • And the foreign minister, a former adviser of the ousted former prime minister, is accused to have negotiated the Preah Vihear issue in a not transparent way with the Cambodian side, not publishing details – while some critics see a connection with the meeting for playing golf between the ousted Thai prime minister with the Cambodian prime minister, after which plans were published that Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra would invest millions of dollars to create gambling casinos in Koh Kong – and both governments agreed how to present the Preah Vihear case to the next UNESCO meeting on World Heritage Site listings.

This is one complex of actual problems which should be known when considering the background of present discussions in Thailand.

But reading the Thai newspapers regularly, I became also aware of another complex, some historical and legal information, which I had not been aware of while in Cambodia. Maybe it is only my mistake that I was not aware of these points – or maybe the Khmer press and the Khmer public is not so aware of these points.

First the history – the history before the 1962 ruling or the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

I did not know before how the border between Cambodia and Thailand in that region had been drawn. The French colonial power in Indochina began in 1904 do make a clear map delineating the Cambodian-Thai border, drawing the line along the watershed along the Dangrek Mountain range.

The following map, finally released after public criticism during the week, shows something interesting: the border is drawn according to the blue lines which indicate the elevation of the territory, always following the watershed, as jointly decided in 1902 and later confirmed in 1907 – but only in the region of Preah Vihear the border is drawn differently. When Cambodia claimed Preah Vihear at the International Court of Justice, Cambodia was supported in its claim to the temple, but as it was not clear how the principle of the watershed as the border had been changed, the International Court of Justice declared that the area around the temple has to be negotiated and clarified between the two countries.

The preface of the 69 pages of the ruling by the International Court of Justice of 15 June 1962 shows that the court was aware of the “uncertain character of resulting delimitation in disputed area” – and it stated further:

Treaty clauses establishing frontier along watershed line as delimited by Mixed Commission of Parties.-Uncertain character of resulting delimitation in disputed area.-Eventual production by experts of one Party, at the request of the other, of a map.-Non-binding character of map at moment of its production…

These uncertainties had never been solved. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting from 23 June to 2 July 2007 did not take a final decision because of the lack of clarity about the surrounding area, and asked that Cambodia should present a Progress Report to the World Heritage Center by 1 February 2008. I am not aware that this report was ever referred to in the press – and I offer my apologies if it was and I missed it.

That the temple belongs to Cambodia is not disputed by the Thai authorities. But it is questioned in the Thai press how the present agreement can be practically implemented. According to the explanation by the Thai foreign minister, the map was presented by the Cambodian side and accepted by the Thai side. It claims only an area of 20 to 30 meters around the temple as belonging to the temple, and after a limited transition period, all the Cambodian tourism facilities and the access to the are from Thailand, which are beyond this line, will have to be removed.

Emotions and statements like the following, back in March 2008, and similar ones later, are touching only on one part of reality, when they say:

  • No Reason for Cambodia to Negotiate with Siam over the Preah Vihear Temple
  • Having The Hague Court Verdict, Cambodia Should Not Discuss Anything with Thailand!

The area of about 4.6 square kilometers, within the watershed area on the Thai side, minus the temple and its 20 to 30 meter surroundings, remain contested. They have not been given to Cambodia in 1962.

In view of this situation, the Thai Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs is reported to ask the World Heritage Committee to delay a decision further, as any decision by the Thai government, that would affect the territorial integrity of the country, requires, according to Article 190 of the Thai Constitution, an agreement by parliament. The Thai government has not considered this to be necessary, as it considers the agreement between between Thailand and Cambodia on the nomination of the temple as a World Heritage Site not as a “bilateral agreement” and therefore should not need parliamentary approval.

All things considered, an future amicable agreement with Thailand, to whom a good part of the 4.6 square kilometer of the contested land on the Thai side of the watershed should belong, is indispensable for good neighborly relations.

The memory of the attack on the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh in 2003, and the destruction of properties valued at US$56 million – the mutually agreed material price – which happened on the basis of a baseless lies and rumors, and the fact that nobody has been punished in Cambodia for these acts of vandalism, is remembered again, and hope is expressed that a rational considerations of the historical and legal facts will prevent further damage.

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