By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Published on March 16, 2011
Unless Thailand and Cambodia come to a compromise on the management of the much-contested Preah Vihear, the border area near the temple will never be peaceful.
The international community, including the United Nations and Asean, is working hard to try and settle this boundary conflict.
Last week, Indonesia, in its capacity as the chair of Asean, called a meeting between both sides' Joint Boundary Committee (JBC) and General Border Committee (GBC) to discuss boundary demarcation and security arrangements at the border.
Jakarta is also preparing to send observers to assess the border situation and monitor a "permanent cease-fire" in the disputed area. However, it would take Asean a long while to bring this complicated conflict to an end.
Since the temple was named a World Heritage Site in 2008, Thailand has been doing its best to derail Cambodia's management plan, which will be considered by the World Heritage Committee this June.
Technically, Thailand should not have anything to do with Preah Vihear because a 1962 ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) says the temple is situated on territory that is under the sovereignty of Cambodia. However, Bangkok fears that Phnom Penh will absorb some of the disputed area and use it as a buffer zone for the temple's management.
Conflicts over Preah Vihear have been going on since the last century. Even though Thailand accepted the ICJ verdict about the temple being under Cambodia's sovereignty, it has always had territorial claims over the area adjacent to it.
Legally, the boundary issue has nothing to do with the World Heritage Committee and should instead be dealt with by the JBC. Yet, Bangkok continues to mix it all up.
The 1972 Unesco Convention's Article 11 says: "The inclusion of a property situated in a territory, sovereignty or jurisdiction over which is claimed by more than one state shall in no way prejudice the rights of the parties to the dispute."
Indeed, Cambodia is not using any of the so-called disputed areas as a buffer zone for the temple. In its plan submitted to the World Heritage Committee in January last year, Phnom Penh confirmed that the disputed area was not included.
Yet, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government did not feel comfortable about Cambodia putting its plan of running Preah Vihear into action, and is doing what it can to block it. Prime Minister Abhisit used the February 4-7 border skirmish as a pretext to have Unesco further delay consideration of the plan.
Though the temple was partially damaged during the clash, the Thai government is stopping a Unesco team from inspecting it. Unesco's special envoy Koichiro Matsuura recently spent time shuttling between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, trying to seek a proper solution, but nothing concrete has been produced so far.
Unesco is meeting Cambodia and Thailand on May 25 in Paris to explore ways of safeguarding the Preah Vihear temple. Yet, ideas of safeguarding the temple are extremely different where the two parties are concerned.
Bangkok wants Unesco to suspend the management plan until the two countries are able to settle the boundary conflict, while Phnom Penh wants to go ahead with this management plan for the temple.
Neither side wants to compromise. At the border area, troops from both sides are prepared for a confrontation, and a military clash can break out any time if the differences are not solved.