Week 577 – Sunday,2008-09-14: Patience in View of What Has Been Agreed and What Is Made Known

Posted on 15 September 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 577 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 577

There was obviously a reason to meet, and then to report about a meeting between two important groups in society under the headline: “Club of Cambodian Journalists Asks Politicians for Communication If They Think Media Are Important.” As the article showed, there is concern that the communication between these two groups does not work as smooth as it would be useful for an informed society, taking up problems which have to be taken up openly, so that problems do now grow bigger, leading to irritation and even confrontation.

But we have also an example where a complaint against a procedure considered unjustified led quickly to change – and this even across borders: on Monday we referred to a report that Thai border police at one border crossing point used dogs to sniff Cambodian travellers “from head to foot,” and have all ten of their fingers fingerprinted. On Friday, we had another report in response, that the governor of the Thai border province of Trat – someone must have informed him of the complaints – had intervened and apologized for the action of the Thai police, defusing the situation.

Just as a brief side remark: traveling to the United States of America during the last years, I am always being fingerprinted when entering the USA – though not all fingers – and I have often been “inspected” by dogs trained to detect drugs, sniffing on my luggage and on me.

But not all irritation finds such quick response. This case of a positive respone should be widely appreciated, as it can establish trust where there is suspicion. And if suspicion is not cleared up, it can lead to enmity, confrontation, and even violent conflict.

Responses from some Cambodian citizens, as mirrored on Saturday, to the statements by the Prime Minister about the tensions at the border with Thailand, raise the concern that they do not seem to be based on relevant information. But these reactions are partly understandable, because some extremely important information related to the tensions at the border have – according to our information – never been published in Cambodia. This question has been raised in The Mirror in the past, and we repeat the question to our readers again: Please let us know where and when the following documents were made available in any publication in Cambodia. If they were not yet made available to the public in Cambodia, while they are accessible internationally – and also in the media in Thailand and in discussions in the Thai parliament, transmitted on TV – the media in Cambodia have failed to report important facts, and by doing so have not helped to contribute to the effort to defuse a difficult, conflictive, situation.

On 18 June 2008, a Joint Communique was signed by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An on behalf of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and by the Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs, and by the Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO. This is the final document which was submitted towards the recognition of the Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage Site. While the listing has rightly been celebrated, the Cambodian public was not made aware by the media in the country – and if it was done: please let us know where and when – of the following map, signed by the head of the Cambodian Border Committee as an “Attachment to the Joint Communique,” and of the related text in the Joint Communique, from which some section are quoted here.

New Map of Preah Vihear Temple for World Heritage Listing

New Map of Preah Vihear Temple for World Heritage Listing



The Joint Communique says among others:

1. The Kingdom of Thailand supports the inscription… of the Temple of Preah Vihear on the World Heritage List proposed by the Kingdom of Cambodia, the perimeter of which is identified as N. 1 in the map prepared by the Cambodian authorities and herewith attached…

2. In the spirit of goodwill and conciliation, the Kingdom of Cambodia accepts that the Temple of Preah Vihear be nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List without at this stage a buffer zone on the northern and western areas of the Temple.

3.The map mentioned in paragraph 1 above shall supersede the maps… of the Temple of Preah Vihear site in Cambodia’s nomination file.

On Saturday, we carried the following statements by some Cambodian citizens.

A person working in a civil society organization, was quoted as saying, “Cambodia has a precisely defined territorial integrity, has laws, and exists on the world map, therefore, it will not let any country with such an ambition swallow the country.”

Article 2 of the Constitution states: “The territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Cambodia shall absolutely not to be violated within its borders as defined in the 1:100,000 scale map made between the year 1933-1953 and internationally recognized between the years 1963 – 1969.”

On a map of the scale 1:100,000, one millimeter on the map correspond to 100 meters in nature. This is a general definition, such a map shows a borderline which is vague by around 100 meters. If the territory of Cambodia were so clearly defined as this person assumes, there would not be a need to work on the demarcatiion of the borders with the neighbors in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

When it comes to the Preah Vihear Temple itself, the situation is clear now, according to the map prepared by the Cambodian authorities: “Cambodia accepts that the Temple of Preah Vihear be nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List without at this stage a buffer zone on the northern and western areas of the Temple” – that is only the narrow strip of land immediately around the temple, marked in light red, in the middle of the map above – nothing more, not the region to the North (which had ben the main entrance from Thailand), nothing to the West where Thai soldiers entered.

The International Court of Justice said in 1992, “the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia” – this territory is described in the new map which supersedes the maps presented by the Cambodian side earlier on – “without at this stage a buffer zone on the northern and western areas of the Temple.” This relates to the World Heritage Site. If the border, in general, would be so clearly defined as the civil society officer assumes, there would not have been an agreement that Cambodia and Thailand will work on the difinition of the border later in his year – and not only on the border around the Temple of Preah Vihear.

Nobody has “an ambition to swallow the country” – to make such an allegation is to stir up bad feelings, while no political party in Thailand is questioning the 1962 court decision. But the adjacent border is not yet defined. The Thai soldiers are in contested areas – first they entered into the contested areas of the “buffer zone on the northern and western areas” of the Temple of Preah Vihear, at this stage not claimed by Cambodia as part of the World Heritage Site.

A law student of the Royal University of Law and Economics, spoke about Thailand using “many tricks in negotiations,” and he recommends, “as our priority, to send a complaint to the United Nations as soon as possible.” It would have been helpful to know what he considers to be tricks – and this in view of the publicly taken position of the Kingdom of Cambodia, as seen in the new Cambodian map and its description, a map “superseding” the maps formerly presented by the Cambodian side. It seem that Thai troops have been – regrettably – deployed only into contested areas with not yet clearly marked and mutually agreed borders, and not across borders already clearly defined. Only in this case Thai troops would commit an act of agression.

Frequently, to sue Thailand at the International Court of Justice in The Hague is also pondered – but so far the press has not reported in detail on which grounds such a legal suit would be based. As this is not a court to persecute criminal actions, both countries involved in a dispute must accept the jurisdiction, which mostly implies that mutual negotiations should have been conducted – which have failed to lead to an agreement. In this case, these negotations – to define the borderline on the ground – have not yet been conducted. It had been announced that the Cambodian and the Thai border commissions would meet probably in October to plan their work.

So the real challenge remains: how to create and improve an environment of mutual trust. Surely by supporting the words of the Prime Minister when he said that “it is better to fight with legal methods” than to consider war. But to do so will be difficult, as long as the mutually elaborated legal agreements are not laid open to the public. We hope that they will even be translated into the Khmer language and published, so that the Khmer citizen, committed to preserving the positions of Cambodia, can also read in their own language what has been internationally agreed and signed in the name of the Kingdomof Cambodia.

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