Monday, 7 February 2011

The International Community Must Intervene to Help Cambodia Safe-guard Preah Vihear Temple in the Wake of Thai Attacks

via CAAI

Editorial by Ek Madra

Now, more than ever, the international community must stand up, take heed of the perils facing Cambodia’s Preah Vihear temple at the hands of the Thai army. The international committee has a moral and legal obligation to undertake this intervention as it had jointly decided to inscribe the 900-year old monument as a World Heritage site. This is because, since the inscription of the temple in July 07th 2008 during the World Heritage Council meeting at Quebec, Canada, Thai forces had staged repeated attacks in and around the vicinity of the world heritage, inflicting irreparable damage to the temple and its surroundings.

Despite numerous ceasefire agreements and dialogue, Cambodia’s Preah Vihear temple continues to be the focal target for Thai forces and recalcitrant politicians to divert attention of their people away from their domestic political issues.

Thai armed forces attempts to invade Cambodia and forcibly evict her citizens from its own territory. This is tantamount to a scorched earth policy as Thai army firing has been indiscriminate and deliberate, probably aimed at discouraging the committee from discussing further the development of the Preah Vihear temple and its vicinity in line with the inscription of the said temple to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Evidently, Thai soldiers had again, on Friday and Saturday, launched artillery bombardment deep into Cambodia’s territory at three locations, all of which are within the vicinity of the Temple. Stern preventive measures must be taken now without delay to ensure that Thai troops respect the international cultural heritage status bestowed on the Preah Vihear temple.

The protection and safe guarding of the temple benefits not only Cambodia but also its feuding neighbor Thailand which has defined the International Court of Justice decision which clearly warded the temple and its surroundings to Cambodia in1962. Thailand stands to benefit from a peaceful and safe Preah Vihear temple in all aspects – development of tourism and economic activities as well as people to people exchange. Thus, it is very important that the international community moves immediately to assist Cambodia to ensure the full and complete preservation of the temple, one which is free from damages caused by armed conflict.

I, therefore, called on the international community to pay close attention to the current armed clashes provoked by Thais to ensure that the Temple will never ever be damaged again by Thai gunfire. Thus the World Heritage Committee should call on all concerned parties to set up an ADHOC committee to work with Cambodia and Thailand to make sure that the Temple will no longer be part of the battle ground between the two Asian nations.

I am deeply shocked again after hearing that the latest Thai attacks had caused many serious damages to the Temple of Preah Vihear as stated by Cambodia’s –ministry of foreign affairs.
Cambodia Has Nothing to Gain in Border Flare-up. Only Thais Gain!

Phnom Penh, February 7, 2011 AKP –

Army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha said that fresh violence, after Friday and Saturday’s clash, is likely to affect the World Heritage Committee’s meeting called for June to discuss the development plan for the Preah Vihear temple, which is close to where the clashes occurred.

Foreign Minister Kasit said the ministry will send a letter to Unesco and its member countries today calling on them to suspend any work involving the Thai-Cambodian border because any actions could intensify the conflict. Both are excerpts from the Bangkok Post website.

Both these statements are crystal clear evidence that the Thai army and Government had launched a premeditated, carefully orchestrated first strike against Cambodia, firing heavy weaponry before moving some 1.6 kms into sovereign Cambodian territory of Preah Vihear.

The objectives are multi pronged. First and foremost, the statement by the yellow shirted PAD which was quoted by the same paper as claiming that the military clash took place because the government did not comply with the yellow-shirt people group’s demands.

These demands being the ultimatum to the Abhisit led Thai government to take any measures deemed necessary to secure the release of two imprisoned Thai spies in Cambodia and for the MOU signed between Cambodia and Thailand to be cancelled.

Thus, the armed forces, which have for the most part of the week had denied somewhat unconvincingly that they would not stage a coup, a possibility given the fact that the deadline for Abhisit to secure the release of the two Thai spies expired on Saturday and the PAD had threatened a mammoth march/demonstration which could have been the impetus for a coup to put an end to the political instability brought about by a previous military coup.

The second reason is plausibly as follows: Abhisit had to deflect the PAD and the general public’s attention, including the Red Shirts who have been slowly finding their voices back and are also mounting pressure on Abhisit on several fronts – politically, legally through illegal activities and corruption related charges.

Thus, the possible way to divert the general public’s attention from the increasing and mounting two pronged threat to the Abhisit led Government is to stir up nationalism and patriotism. The following statement, attributed to Prime Minister Abhisit and quoted by the Bangkok Post on Saturday says it all and speaks volumes for this internal squabble leading to border clash to be a fact rather than a theory: “He (Abhisit) called on Thai people to support the armed forces in protecting the country’s sovereignty,” after meeting of heads of security and foreign affairs agencies held earlier (Saturday) at Government House to discuss the border clash.

Analysts and political commentators and observers, Cambodian and Thais included, are of the opinion that internal political squabbles should never corner the majority of the Thai government’s time. This border dispute is an issue that never should have erupted to the point it is at.
However, continued internal political problems have all the Thai government’s attention in the wrong places when the defense and safe keeping of the country should be first, welfare of it’s citizens next and the Thai Government can do this by not invading its smaller neighbor! The fighting on Friday and Saturday, a premeditated and unprovoked action by the Thai armed forces is a shameful display of self-serving greed.

Abhisit’s statement that Thai soldiers had to protect the sovereignty of Thailand and that Thailand has never invaded its neighbor’s territory, is farcical, nonsensical and absolutely rubbish. Why is that so? The reasons given above are sufficient evidence to this Thai aggression which it blames on its smaller and weaker neighbor!

My view is the Thai army started shooting first. Why you ask? I think there are yellow shirt supporters in army uniform acting on orders from the Yellow leaders to start a problem. It would make sense as they hold the ‘Big demo’ to decide on how to overthrow the current government and have ‘their’ war! One wonder’s if PM Abhisit has taken their bait?

Why indeed would Cambodia initiate war with Thailand? After all Thailand is much bigger in every aspect, including bullying its smaller neighbors. It has modern jet fighters and an air force while Cambodian has none. Its armed forces are well equipped while Cambodia’s army is said to be a bunch of rag-tag soldiers. Thailand’s economic prowess and strengths are much larger than Cambodia. It could probably effort a short war with Cambodia. Cambodia cant as it has more important things to do.

On the other hand, Cambodia has what Thailand wishes to have. The Abhisit led Thailand craves for political stability which has been extinct in the past half a decade. Cambodia has had political and security stability in the past 12 years. Its economy is growing. Its tourism market is growing while that of Thailand falters.

Cambodia’s Premier Hun Sen enjoys wide spread popularity while Thai premier Abhisit is constantly under threat from his own party, the judiciary, his once upon a time ally, the PAD, and the Red Shirts.

The Thai premier had indicated that this year would be eventful with the general elections to be held and renewed political unrest to overcome. He added there was a pressing need for the government to sustain the rule of law and maintain political stability to keep the country from becoming a “failed state”.

Thus, I ask again, what better to prevent being labeled as a failed state than to initiate a fight with its neighbor Cambodia? A fight to Annex by force what it failed to do legally 49 years ago at the Hague?

What better way to do this than for Thailand to demand its smaller neighbor to bring down her flag flying over its property located on her sovereign territory and built some 13 years ago?

The eruption on Friday, according to sources, is namely because the Thai military continued to press the Cambodians hard to lower their flag-with some reports saying the Thais attempted to bring in heavy equipment to tear down a modern pagoda built on some area not known to be disputed.

Friday and Saturdays clash of artillery and rocket grenades took place as Thailand and Cambodia are celebrating their 60th year relationship this year, and the Thai foreign minister’ Kasit, was in Cambodia to inject life into the joint border dispute resolution units-to take the situation out of the sphere of internal national politics.

Relations had soured in recent weeks.

As some spies sent into Cambodia by the Thai prime minister, Abhisit, are tried and some allowed to leave Cambodia, the Thai Army stepped in!

The Thai general in charge of the Thai E-Sarn region that borders Cambodia-started to make noise about a Cambodian tablet and flags that have been there for years and years-that they must be torn down-probably, because of internal politics of Thailand with the nationalist yellow shirts urging the Thai military to take a hard line position.

Bangkok Post reported that the Cambodian removal of the tablet was a “Smashing Success” with picture of the smashed Cambodia tablets being featured prominently in the Thai media. Then the Thai military announced a military exercise near the disputed border.

The situation verged on clashes before. Again-the Thai second army region general-that looks after the Thai border with Cambodia-had been making many statements to the press in recent weeks, including demanding the removal of the mentioned Cambodian tablet. The Cambodians agreed to remove it as a sign of goodwill, not as a sign of weakness or provocation.
Then Bangkok demanded the flag be removed.

The Cambodians subsequently said the removal of the flag tantamount to war. This is precisely what the Thais were hoping to initiate! Then the Thai said the new pagoda must be torn down. Then the Thais went to plant a flag, said to be bigger and taller than Cambodian flag. And, Thailand starts its invasion to divert attention away from the mounting threat to its rule in Bangkok and in the process muzzle its opponents.

Now, returning to the following:

Army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha said that fresh violence, after Friday and Saturday’s clash, is likely to affect the World Heritage Committee’s meeting called for June to discuss the development plan for the Preah Vihear temple, which is close to where the clash occurred.

Foreign Minister Kasit said the ministry will send a letter to Unesco and its member countries today calling on them to suspend any work involving the Thai-Cambodian border because any actions could intensify the conflict. Both are excerpts from the Bangkok Post website.

Is this another gambit by the Thais to derail Cambodia’s efforts to develop Preah Vihear after it was inscribed as a World Heritage site in July 2008? It is public knowledge that the WHC will examine Cambodia’s efforts to develop and transform the Preah Vihear Temple and its vicinity into a global eco and cultural tourism site.

What better way to derail this effort than to show the world and the WHC that Thailand is able to blackmail, threaten and bully the WHC, effectively meaning the international community, to suspend work or reconsider their decision to inscribe the Preah Vihear Temple as a world heritage site?

The onus is on Cambodia to show credibility and capability to manage Preah Vihear Temple and what better way for this to be thwarted than raw Thai aggression?

Friday and Saturday’s deadly clash follows a pattern by the Thais since Preah Vihear temple was inscribed as a world heritage site as barely a week after the inscription, the Thai army had invaded Cambodia at the tenacious border, causing destruction to the 900 years old temple, destroying villages and markets well inside Cambodian territory as identified and judged by non other than the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

At the Chulalongkorn University, academics got together to discuss the Thai- Cambodia situation and they said, quote: “Abhisit and the military must not let the internal politics of Thailand to dictate the relationship between the two countries, but let the border dispute resolution bodies do their work.”

Wise words indeed. But would Premier Abhisit listen or has be pushed over the edge by the yellow shirt ultra nationalists who are itching for a fight to enable their new proxies to be control of Bangkok since Abhisit is now viewed with suspicion and as a renegade by the same people who helped put him there!

By T. Mohan, a long term political analyst and observer in Cambodia

(The comments are solely the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Government of Cambodia.)

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