The Temple of Preah Vihear


LCCHP is alarmed by the escalating conflict between the Southeast Asian nations of Cambodia and Thailand over the ancient Hindu temple of Preah Vihear. On 22 February 2011, we launched an appeal drawing attention to the crisis. For the latest updates on the situation at Preah Vihear, a full text of our statement, and a complete list of signatories, stay tuned to this page.

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The Latest News from Preah Vihear

2 March 2011

UN Envoy Meets Thai and Cambodian Leaders Over Preah Vihear Heritage Site
The UN News Centre reports on UNESCO's recent mission to Bangkok and Phnom Penh, where Koichiro Matsuura met with the prime ministers of both countries to discuss the safeguarding of Preah Vihear temple.

Mission On Preah Vihear Temple Concludes Successfully
According to People's Daily Online, Koichiro Matsuura — the head of UNESCO's delegation to Preah Vihear  — has concluded his trip to the region.  He visited Thailand from February 25-26 and Cambodia from February 27-March 1. He did not, however, tour Preah Vihear itself and could not said when UNESCO will finally assess damage at the site.  Nonetheless, Matsuura described his mission as "very fruitful."

27 February 2011

UNESCO Envoy Arrives
The Phnom Penh Post reports that Koichiro Matsuura — the head of UNESCO's delegation to Preah Vihear and the former head of UNESCO itself — has visited Phnom Penh, but has postponed his visit to Preah Vihear, purportedly to allow Cambodia to prepare for the arrival of Indonesian peacekeepers.

Indonesian Officers Visit Disputed Thai-Cambodia Area
Voice of America reports that a five-member team of Indonesian military officers visited the disputed border between Cambodia and Thailand, to lay the foundation for a future deployment of between 30 and 40 Indonesian observers.

23 February 2011

UNESCO Envoy Due On Sunday
According to the Phnom Penh Post, UNESCO is sending five-member delegation to Cambodia, which will arrive on Sunday. The PPP quotes Koichiro Matsuura — the head of the delegation and the former head of UNESCO — as saying that “The meetings will focus on the role of the international community, mainly UNESCO itself, in taking action to protect Preah Vihear temple.” Contrary to earlier reports, the delegation will visit the temple of Preah Vihear.

PM: No Troop Withdrawal from Border
The Bangkok Post quotes Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as saying that he will not withdraw Thai troops from the Cambodian border, even though Indonesia is about to send a team of observers there. He said Thailand has the right to protect its sovereignty and to retaliate if its rights are violated.

22 February 2011

LCCHP Calls for the Preservation of Preah Vihear Temple
LCCHP and 7 other organizations have released an appeal drawing attention to the crisis at Preah Vihear, which stated in part:

We commend Cambodia and Thailand for agreeing to a ceasefire on 7 February 2011 and trust that they will continue to honor it. We also urge both nations to fulfill their obligations as States Parties to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, as well as the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Lastly, we petition the World Heritage Committee to place Preah Vihear on its List of World Heritage in Danger and call on UNESCO to fully investigate the damage that the recent conflict has inflicted on the site.

ASEAN Brokers Preah Vihear Deal

The Phnom Penh Post and the Bangkok Post report that Cambodia and Thailand have agreed to allow Indonesian observers to monitor the disputed border between the two countries, in a deal brokered by ASEAN at its latest meeting in Jakarta. The move comes as a surprise to political observers, given that Thailand has previously refused all outside intervention. In light of the agreement, Cambodia has temporarily halted its calls for a permanent ceasefire with Thailand.

19 February 2011

PM: UNESCO Special Envoy to Visit Bangkok, Phnom Penh Next Week
The Thai News Agency MCOT reports that UNESCO will not proceed with its management plan of Preah Vihear until the border between Thailand and Cambodia is demarcated. UNESCO's special envoy undefined Mr Koichiro Matsuura, former Director-General of the organization undefined will visit Bangkok and Phnom Penh next week to discuss the conflict between the two countries. 

Hun Sen Playing High Stakes Game
According to the Bangkok Post, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked the International Court of Justice to reopen the case between Cambodia and Thailand over the temple of Preah Vihear. Thailand is still pushing for the matter to be settled without outside involvement.

18 February 2011

Thailand: Too Early for Ceasefire
UPI.com quotes Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as saying that it is too soon to sign a ceasefire agreement with Cambodia, which he accuses of starting a "fight."

Observers See Limited Role for ASEAN in Dispute
According to Voice of America, while the UN Security Council is urging ASEAN to mediate  the Cambodian-Thai border conflict, political observers doubt that the regional body will be able to help, since Thailand prefers to resolve the matter bilaterally.

17 February 2011

Hun Sen Seeks Ceasefire
According to the Phnom Penh Post, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that Cambodia will petition for a permanent ceasefire with Thailand to be monitored by ASEAN observers. Cambodia will formally make the request when ASEAN meets next week in Jakarta. Thailand has dismissed Cambodia's previous requests for monitors from ASEAN or the UN.

Cambodia Turns to ASEAN
The Bangkok Post reports that Thailand will oppose any effort by Cambodia to bring in ASEAN peacekeepers, but is open to bilateral talks.

"No Mission" Yet to Preah Vihear Temple
Voice of America reports that UNESCO has no plans to visit Preah Vihear temple until tensions between Cambodia and Thailand calm down. VOI also quotes Sue Williams, a spokeswoman for UNESCO, as stating that any visit would have to be done with “full collaboration” from both countries.

16 February 2011

Accusations Fly Over New Skirmish
Speaking to the Phnom Penh Post, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong accused Thailand of violating the ceasefire. In a statement, the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also alleged that Thailand had fired grenades and 81mm mortars into an area close to Preah Vihear. The statement continued:

This violation of the ceasefire by Thai armed forces clearly shows that the real intention behind Thailand’s insistence on resolving the matter bilaterally is to use its overwhelming superior military forces to take over Cambodian territory in the vicinity of the temple of Preah Vihear.

It added that Cambodian troops did not respond to the Thai “provocation.”

Army: Border Post Attacked Overnight
According to the Bangkok Post, a spokesman for the Royal Thai Army has accused Cambodia of violating the ceasefire, by firing on Thai soldiers at Phu Ma Khua. There were no Thai casualties, but civilians in the area were forced to flee their homes.

15 February 2011

UNESCO to Hear Thai Viewpoint
The Bangkok Post reports that Thailand will oppose any effort by UNESCO to inspect Preah Vihear at this time. The country will also send a representative to the World Heritage Committee to request that the temple's designation as a World Heritage Site be put on hold.

10 February 2011

In response to report that cluster bombs have been used in the conflict over Preah Vihear, the Cluster Munition Coalition has released a statement in which it:

...calls on Cambodia and Thailand to clarify if their armed forces have used cluster munitions in the recent border conflict, and urges both countries to refrain from using cluster munitions and to prevent future civilian suffering by acceding to the Convention on Cluster Munitions without delay.

9 February 2011

Thailand, Cambodia at "War": PM
The Phnom Penh Post quotes Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen as stating that the conflict with Thailand "is a real war" and thus demands the intervention of the UN Security Council. The PPP also reports that several Cambodian officials have accused Thailand of using cluster bombs, which are banned under international law. Thailand denies the accusations.

8 February 2011

Pause in Fighting Over Temple Between Thailand and Cambodia
The New York Times has released a firsthand account of damage at Preah Vihear:

After the engagement last weekend, the portion of the temple closest to Thailand showed the marks of the fighting, with chips and chunks cut out of a column and of a wall of the fourth gopura, or entrance building, along the temple’s causeway.

A trail of blood through a carved stone doorway traced the last steps of a Cambodian soldier who was killed.

At the fifth and last gopura, chips from the walls were scattered on the ground, along with the tail fins of a rocket. There was no sign of the collapse that the Cambodian government had claimed.

Caught in Thailand-Cambodia Crossfire: Preah Vihear Temple
According to the Christian Science Monitor, at least five Cambodians and two Thais have lost their lives and dozens more have been injured since fighting broke out between the two countries at the temple of Preah Vihear. Like the New York Times, the CSM also reports that the temple itself has suffered damage. Preah Vihear became a World Heritage Site in 2008, and was among the most contentious applications ever, according to Giovanni Boccardi of UNESCO:
"Because of the border issue, I believe that we can rank it among the most difficult,” he told The Cambodia Daily in July 2008. “The question was not simply to demonstrate its value but to understand the implications of its inscription for management and ensure that the parties concerned would be ready to cooperate for its protection.”

Border Dispute
Australia Network Newsline has produced an excellent short documentary on the unfolding conflict at the Cambodia-Thai border (you must scroll down to the video).


UNESCO to Send Mission to Preah Vihear
Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, called for Cambodia and Thailand to show restraint at Preah Vihear and stated that "I intend to send a mission to the area as soon as possible to assess the state of the temple."

7 February 2011

Thailand-Cambodia Clashes Continue, But Bangkok Insists Mediation "Not Necessary"
As the US and other countries plead for both Thailand and Cambodia to honor a ceasefire, Cambodia has requested the presence of United Nations peacekeepers. The Christian Science Monitor quotes UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as stating that the UN is ready to assist. But the CSM also reports that Thani Thongpakdi, a spokesman for Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, is rejecting calls for outside intervention and insisting that Thailand will resolve the crisis through bilateral talks.

6 February 2011

A Holy Dispute
Time Magazine has released a photo essay on the Preah Vihear conflict, tracing it from 1962 to present day.

5 February 2011

Preah Vihear Temple a Lightning Rod for Thai-Cambodian Tension
Reuters has published a fact sheet on Preah Vihear, including information on the temple's violent history:

The Khmer Rouge occupied the site for years, and rusting artillery pieces can still be found lying amid the ruins.In June 1979, Thai soldiers forced 45,000 refugees from Pol Pot's "Killing Fields" to descend the heavily mined escarpment back into Cambodia. "Several thousand died, either shot by Thai soldiers to prevent them trying to cross back, or blown up in the minefields," British historian Philip Short wrote in a seminal biography of Pol Pot.

4 February 2011

Cambodia Battles Thai Forces
The New York Times and other international news outlets are reporting that conflict has erupted between Cambodian and Thai troops at the ancient temple of Preah Vihear, but both sides have since reached a ceasefire.

Tensions Erupt as Thailand, Cambodia Exchange Gunfire at Disputed Border Temple
The Christian Science Monitor quotes the Cambodian Information Minister, Khieu Kanharith, as stating that Cambodian troops fired warning shots to stop Thai troops from attacking a Buddhist pagoda on Cambodian territory.

Thai Army Chief Seeks End to Cambodia Border Clash
Speaking to Reuters, Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha described the gunfire as "a result of a misunderstanding" and assures that "Right now there is ongoing talks between army chiefs on both sides.

'Two Dead' in Thai-Cambodia Border Clash
The BBC also reports that Cambodia is characterizing the fighting as an "invasion," while Thailand is calling it a "misunderstanding."


Preah Vihear, Photograph by Dougald O'Reilly, Heritage Watch


LCCHP Calls for the Preservation of Preah Vihear Temple

We, the undersigned institutions, are greatly concerned by the escalating conflict between the Southeast Asian nations of Cambodia and Thailand over the ancient temple of Preah Vihear. The sacred Hindu shrine is now a battlefield; the descendants and heirs of its builders are among those whom the fighting has killed, injured, and displaced. Without question, continued clashes will lead to increased casualties and will further jeopardize Preah Vihear.

Preah Vihear was a crowning achievement of the Khmer Empire, which ruled Southeast Asia from the 9th to 15th centuries and preceded the modern Cambodian state. The site has been the subject of a border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand since French Indochina collapsed in 1954. In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear to Cambodia, and Thailand relinquished the temple in 1963. In 2008, at Cambodia’s request, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site of “outstanding universal value.” Cambodian-Thai relations rapidly deteriorated in the wake of the listing, which was intended to protect the temple. In the last few years, these political tensions have repeatedly sparked armed clashes, with Preah Vihear at the frontline. The most recent fighting - and fiercest to date - erupted on 4 February 2011 and has taken lives, wounded dozens, forced thousands to flee their homes, and damaged the temple.

The preservation of Preah Vihear, a World Heritage Site, is not only Cambodia’s responsibility, but also that of the international community. We commend Cambodia and Thailand for agreeing to a ceasefire on 7 February 2011 and trust that they will continue to honor it. We also urge both nations to fulfill their obligations as States Parties to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, as well as the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Lastly, we petition the World Heritage Committee to place Preah Vihear on its List of World Heritage in Danger and call on UNESCO to fully investigate the damage that the recent conflict has inflicted on the site.

It is imperative that every measure be taken to protect the Cambodian and Thai people, as well as their cultural heritage, which should be a unifying force and not a dividing one.




Resources


Cambodia v. Thailand (International Court of Justice)

Preah Vihear Temple (New York Times)
 
Temple of Preah Vihear (UNESCO World Heritage Center)

Travel Feature on Preah Vihear (New York Times)

Why Thai-Cambodia Temple Dispute Lingers (Christian Science Monitor)

World Heritage in Danger



Preah Vihear, Photograph by Dougald O'Reilly, Heritage Watch

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