Archive for October 20th, 2008

International Conflicts Require an Internationally Open Discussion to Find Solutions – Sunday, 19.10.2008

Posted on 20 October 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 582 |

While Cambodia is often – in statistics comparing income, corruption perception, education, and health care – not listed in the more positive regions. But when it comes to the freedom of the press – the printed press, not the media in general – Cambodia is positioned fairly high, compared to other countries in Asia, or in ASEAN.

The present tensions at the border with Thailand have revealed, however, another aspect: the limited coverage of international news. The same event, reported in Cambodia, may receive quite a different description in Thailand. We have recently tried to put some reports from Thailand next to the reports from within the country. This has also resulted in accusations that the Mirror supports Thailand’s position, disregarding the Cambodian one. It was neither our intention, nor do we think we have done it. But we think that responsible journalism includes the commitment to present a wide variety of reports and viewpoints – so that these can contribute to find an approach to the truth, which is not blindly bound by particular interests. To be confronted with a variety of different reports and facts will help to sharpen critical reflection – critical even against assumed self-interest, leading also to self-criticism, where it may be called for with good reasons.

As such an example of reflective-self criticism, which went even against a wider popular sentiment, a Thai newspaper, the Bangkok Post, published on 30 June 2008 a cartoon, warning that Thai nationalism, “following a leader” without considering where he leads to, may end in falling off the cliff.



Are there similar self-critical warnings against blind nationalism also in the Cambodian media? We would be grateful to be informed that they exist; we did not find much of this kind. We are rather concerned about the very rough and often rude language being sent around on the Internet from where we quote a few examples: “You walk into Cambodia one more step, you will Die like a DOG!” And at the same time when the Khmer Rouge Tribunal is proceeding, a considerable amount of a kind of battlefront solidarity can be found: “Former Khmer Rouge soldiers were never afraid of death” (fighting against whom?) – and the old gun, though rusty, is thirsty for blood. Do such build better neighborly relations? Do such voices not call for repudiation?

This week, we carried a report that a book about The History of Democratic Kampuchea – the Khmer Rouge regime – will become part of some educational curricula. This is very important. The discussions around the Preah Vihear problems reveal that there seems to be a wide consensus that important facts are well known – and therefore strong emotions can be rallied for certain opinions and actions. But it seems also that the actual information basis about the history is very thin, and therefore can easily be manipulated emotionally.

There was time and again the opinion expressed that the International Court of Justice has made the final decisions, and therefore there is nothing left to be discussed with Thailand. The brief decision of the court of 1962, “that the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia” is often quoted in general terms, and it has also been accepted by the different Thai governments since that time – but that the court decision, published on 69 pages, was not decisive in establishing the final borderline between both countries, is not so widely known. To go into detailed, factual discussion in public would require to have this court ruling (and related documents) also available in Khmer translation for the public.

The manifold denunciations of aggressions and incursions against Thai personnel – already during the weeks and months long before there was armed conflict leading to the loss of human life, victimization by mines, and injuries by shooting – relate to the region to the north and to the west of the Preah Vihear Temple. We have still not found any single reference in the Khmer press how to understand these denunciations on the background of the Joint Communique of 18 June 2008 – signed by the representatives of the two Kingdoms of Cambodia and of Thailand, and of UNESCO. How should the presence of Thai troops – to the north and to the west of Preah Vihear Temple – be interpreted, considering that the Joint Communique says that “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,” and that the map appended “supersedes the maps… as well as all the graphic references… of the Temple of Preah Vihear site in Cambodia’s nomination file” previously presented to UNESCO with maps dating back to 1962, 1907, and 1904.

This position taken on 18 June 2008, internationally well known, as it was the final document presented for the listing as a World Heritage Site, has never been presented in the Khmer press – if it was, we apologize, and would appreciate to receive related information.

When some media and some civic organizations call on the government to lodge protests against the Thai presence – in these buffer areas to the north and to the west of the Preah Vihear Temple – referring to maps of 1907 and of 1904, they are probably not aware that these maps have been superseded by another map on 18 June 2008, presented on behalf of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Any international, and any bilateral negotiation will have to deal with the most recent legal position, on which both governments, in the presence of UNESCO, have agreed.

On 18 June 2008, a claim was made only, at this stage, for the tiny zone in the middle of the following map, marked in red and identified as 1.

Joint Communique map

Joint Communique map

This international conflict shows that information and news to be referred to cannot be pre-selected according to national criteria only. Sooner or later, the Joint Communique will have to be translated into Khmer and discussed publicly also in Cambodia. It forms also the basis for the creation of the joint management plan – to be developed together with Thailand – which has to be presented in February 2010 to the World Heritage Committee. The listing is not forever – some listings have been withdrawn in the past, where the contracting parties did not live up to their contracted obligations.

The Khmer press, in order to fulfill its role to provide the information for a responsible building up of public opinion, will have to find ways to facilitate a critical, and self-critical public discussion in Cambodia, which the Thai press if providing in Thailand. Otherwise Cambodia will be again more and more isolated internationally – and Cambodian people may think this is a situation imposed by the outside. But so far, his impression is a self-created isolation, as the Khmer press did not help to look into some most important official documents, which lead beyond popular nationalistic emotions.

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