Thailand or Cambodia – who is right?

The current conflict between Cambodia and Thailand is doing nothing for Thailand, northing for Cambodia, and nothing for ASEAN
While this issue has been on the cards for many years it appeared to have resolved itself  for a while and Thais could apparently live in harmony with their neighbours, while the issue rumbled on inconsequentially in the background.
It only became a political issue when the late PM Thaksin Shinawatra ,who had extensive business interests in Cambodia appeared to be favouring Hun Sen on the Preah Vihear temple issue, and that inevitably involved protest from yellow shirted PAD supporters. The current government of course is anti-Thaksin in all respects and has to a certain extent followed the PAD line, while distancing itself slightly from elements of this movement.
Still people in the west might find it hard to fathom why two Buddhist nations are killing each other’s soldiers and civilians in quite futile artillery barrages across this border.  Many Thais along the border in the provinces of Surin and Buri Ram, Sakeo, Aranyaprathet speak Khmer.
The main temple in question are Khmer in origin is quite clear but of course Preah Vihear sits on a raised plateau which geographically seems very much to be part of Thailand and how many times have Thailand’s border with Cambodia changed?
Yesterday Thailand’s Prime Minister did quite a good PR job for Thailand by being able to speak coherently in English on the BBC and elsewhere and saying that there was nothing he wanted more than lasting peace.
Of course the Cambodian’s believes he speaks with a forked tongue, and of course there are elements at home he does not want to upset. Likewise I myself have difficulty believing Hun Sen is a man of the people considering the masses he had driven from their homes for building and other projects for his cronies.

At any rate there is nothing Buddhist about the fighting going on.
I raise this issue today because I and many others got an email from Raoul Jennar, a Belgian professor and authority on Cambodia in which he presented a robust, rather too robust perhaps, explanation of the Cambodian point of view.
Raoul has been around for a long time. He was in Cambodia when I was there covering the UNTAC elections in the early nineties, and when King Sihanouk returned.
For journalists he was the man to go for a reasoned quote. So I am confused as to why, as an academic, he has taken on an advisory role to the Cambodian government.  He has as a result been described on at least one website as Hun Sen’s lackey.
(On a lighter note I have to say he does make several points about maps produced in Thailand. If the maps are anything like the ones I have bought here over the years then I can sort of understand his frustration)
So who is right? And should we care?
This is what Raoul Jennar has to say:

1. Why Cambodia does not trust the Thai side ?  Thailand doesn’t respect her own signature :

a) in 1946, Thailand signed with France an agreement reestablishing, after World War II, previous conventions and treaties (1920, 1925 and 1937). All of these instruments stipulate that the two countries confirmed the established border line according to the maps that have been adopted by both government as the settlement of the 1904 convention and the 1907 treaty. It was written by a Conciliatory Franco-Siam Commission that there was no need to change the provisions of the 1907 treaty about the border. But three years later, in 1949, Thai officials were occupying the Preah Vihear temple.
When, today, Thailand is stating that “the border has never been demarcated”, it is denying her own signature on the minutes of the Commissions of Delimitation and on the 1920 revision. 

b) in 1991, at the time of the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements on Cambodia, Thailand was among the signatories parties that pledged to protect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Cambodia.
But during the UN operation that followed this Agreement, it was seen by UN observers that the Thai armed forces moved border stones inside Cambodian territory (UNTAC Border units final report, September 1993). 
 c) in 2000, on 14 June, Thailand and Cambodia signed a Memorandum of Understanding  which says that the demarcation of the border line between the two countries  shall be jointly conducted in accordance with the 1904 Convention, the 1907 treaty and its annexed Protocol and “‘ the Maps which are the results of demarcation works of 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.’
After the approval of the works by the Commissions of Delimitation, maps (1/200.000e scale) have been printed by both the French Republic and the Kingdom of Siam. Both maps provide the same drawing of the international border line (Note of the French Embassy in Bangkok, 9 May 1949 – ICJ, Case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear, Annexes, p. 104-105). But, since then, recently, Thailand publish a unilateral map that changes the international border in the vicinity of Preah Vihear temple and released a map that put Ta Moan and Ta Krabei temples in Thai territory.  To change unilaterally an international border line is a clear violation of the UN Charter and a brutal rupture of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation between ASEAN Member States .   
d) in November 2008 and in February and April 2009 there were meetings of the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC). The minutes of the three meetings have been approved in principle by the Thai Cabinet. But the ratification by the Thai appropriate institution remains unclear due to constitutional uncertainties and that makes difficult for the JBC to continue its work. When Thailand asks for the “resumption of the meetings of the JBC”, one must ask why Thailand is failing to ratify the minutes of the previous meetings.  “Pacta sun servanda” (Latin for “agreement must be kept”) is an international legal principle. It means that States are legally bind by the treaties, conventions, memorandum of understanding they sign. Thailand failed and still is failing to respect this principle which is at the core of international law as it is confirmed by article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.   How can one trust a country that systematically fails to comply with the bilateral and international instruments it signs ? How is it possible to trust a Prime Minister who declares that Memorandum of Understanding” (a diplomatic instrument that falls under the broad category of treaty), are “only pieces of paper without biding obligations” (Abhisit, 7 August 2010)    2. Why a bilateral process doesn’t work ?
Thai officials use to say that “the dispute could be settled in bilateral level”.  If it was so easy, why it’s so hard to find a settlement ? Nothing came through bilateral negotiations.  It was already like that between July 1954 (when Thai troops occupied the Preah Vihear Temple) until September 1959 (when Cambodia brought the case to the ICJ) : 5 years of bilateral negotiations with Thailand failed to reach a solution based on previous bilateral conventions and treaties. 

Today, the main reasons are :  
 a) the legal insecurity created by Thailand which refuses to be bind by bilateral conventions and treaties signed  previously.

 b) the refusal by the Thai side to ratify previous agreements reached between November 2008 and April 2009 within the framework of the Joint Boundary Commission. 
c) the delay or the refusal by the Thai side to attend scheduled meetings, even bilateral talks is a deep and contradictory interpretation of the  ICJ 1962 decision.    The Thai decision to reject the map commonly agreed during  more than one century makes impossible any agreement. The 1962 ICJ Judgment is based on that map. But for Thailand, the ICJ “did not in any case determine the location of the boundary between Cambodia and Thailand”.   This is a clear denunciation of the 1908 bilateral agreement on the map, of the 1920, 1925, 1937 and 1946 convention, treaty and agreement.
By publishing unilateral maps that change the international border line, Thailand is denouncing the 2000 MOU between the two countries.  Through various judgements, the ICJ made clear that any unilateral denunciation of a bilateral agreement may lead to the ICJ.  There is a need that the international Justice gives a biding interpretation of its 1962 Judgment.  This application made by Cambodia to the ICJ doesn’t interfere with the Indonesian mediation whose aim is to help both parties to avoid military clashes. Facing the total failure of bilateral negotiations, Cambodia makes the political choice to prefer international legal mediation than violent methods to solve the conflict. 
Raoul Marc JENNAR Adviser to the Royal Government of Cambodia 5. V. 2011               

7 thoughts on “Thailand or Cambodia – who is right?

  1. It's really quite extraordinary that this silly little dispute should eclipse the war in the South but I suppose subjugation of their own people pales into insignificance when something like Thai honour is at stake.
    Frankly, I don't understand why they just don't demilitarise the area and agree to declare the disputed areas a condominium state to be administered equally. It's of no strategic value save as a totem to the PAD retards.

  2. Both sides need to reach the conclusion that there is no military solution. Given the violent history in the region especially in Cambodia it would benefit all parties if a political solution is reached. With the fabulous history of these Temple complexes mostly undiscovered by tourists it would behoove Thailand and Cambodia to has out some sort of commercial agreement to allow visitors into these treasures. One need only look at the success of Angkor, Ayuttaya, and Sukothai to see the possibilities to be achieved.

  3. There is no military solution to disputed Temple Complex along the Thai-Cambodian border. In light of the conflict in IndoChina and subsequent khmer Rouge and Vietnamese occupation it is of utmost importance for the two nations to put there differences aside in the name of peace, stability, and mutual economic advantage. These fabulous sites are treasures which should be preserved and appreciated by the world. It is therefore in the interest of P.M. Abhasit of Thailand and Mr. Hun Sen of Cambodia to bridge their animosity and differences and promote peace and prosperity in the region. Conflict is a non-starter.

  4. I have the answer! At the risk of lowering the tone and intruding in your private debate with Westerby, looking at a map it would appear Cambodia is right as Thailand lies to the left. But I realise this is a part of your site reserved for intellectual debate on regional affairs so I'll try to enter into the spirit. If you were painted into a corner, honestly which country would you choose to believe? Observing the rule of thumb in these parts, why should we presume this border squabble is what it appears, on the face of it? Isn't it more likely to be a distraction of some sort? Gun smoke and mirrors? You mention Buddhism … since when has that got in the way of either country (and Burma for that matter) killing their fellow man with abandon? That blood is supposedly being shed over a Buddhist temple one wonders if the Thais and Cambodians involved understand irony, let alone the precepts of their faith.

  5. The headline gave me the impression you were going to explain a bit what the arguments were in favor of one side or the other's claim to the site. Disappointment on that one. Misleading headlines are a peeve of mine.

    Cambodia's argument seems to be out there, Thailand's not so much.

    If there's going to be a change in the border, there's going to need to be some evidence from Thailand's side. The best case I've heard from Thailand is that the border agreed to in 1960 was wrong. Well, if there's no legally recognized map prior to that that says otherwise, they just dont' have any proof of that. I haven't seen it yet. If that's where things stand, it means they have no case. It's going to take pretty convincing evidence to get the UN to agree to a change. Imagining they will with no compelling evidence is delusional thinking.

    It would seem the next best option for Thailand would be dual-access (like they used to have), though I dont' see how they get there by joining in these live-ammo wargames like they have been — in fact, the more they do that, the further the chances of a return to that kind of arrangement diminish.

    So I suppose they're not actually interested in having access from Thailand.

  6. I have nothing against intellectual debate. But prefer the straight call a spade a spade dialogue. People can talk about this ad nauseum. At the end of the day the two Buddhist countries should get together and share.
    Is there oil under the temple?

  7. That the temple is Khmer in origin is clear but irrelevant. So are many other temples in Thailand.

    The strongest observation that a layman might make in favour of the Thai position is that, as you write,""Preah Vihear sits on a raised plateau which geographically seems very much to be part of Thailand."" This observation was also true when more than 100 years ago the joint Siam-French Delimitation Commission nevertheless established by agreement the international boundary now rejected by Thailand. In the current dispute, any argument based on this geographical observation lacks legal foundation and cannot form the basis of redrawing established boundaries. If it were otherwise, Canada, for example, could just as well argue that Alaska should properly be under her dominion rather than part of the United States!

    The simple fact is that all of the issues being aerated in the current dispute were squarely addressed by the International High Court of Justice in its 1962 decission regarding ""ownership"" of Preah Vihear. The court's pronouncements on the various border issues that arose in the case were central to the decission cannot be dismissed as mere obiter dicta without doing violence to logic and legal principle.

    Unless a new argument is presented by Thailand(for example, that in the colonial world of 1904-1907 the Siam authorities negotiated with the French from a position of considerable undue disadvantage in settling the border around Preah Vihear) it is very difficult to understand the Thai position which publically purports to accept the 1962 IHCJ decission while at the same time unilaterally asserting an international boundary rejected by the court decission.

    It may be a novel idea, but anyone purporting to hold an opinion on this issue must read the IHCJ decission. . . duh! That said, it would indeed be very interesting to know what led the Siamese authorities to accept the agreed border demarcation more than 100 years ago and why no related issue has been raised in the current dispute. It would also be wise for all interested parties to remember that by a 1907 French-Siamese treaty, a vast expanse of territory that was Cambodian in the 16th Century but controlled by Siam from 1893 was graciously ceded by treaty in 1907/9. The land area ceded by Siam in 1907/9 represents approximately 20% of Cambodia's current territory and the factors which led the Siamese authorities to cede this territory could perhaps shed some light on why they also accepted the geographically curious border demarcation around Preah Vihear.

Comments are closed.