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A Public Forum on Preah Vihear and Phra Viharn: Pathways to A Shared Destiny

A Public Forum on

“Preah Vihear and Phra Viharn:

Pathways to A Shared Destiny”


Thursday, 21 March 2013 at 08.30 – 11.30 a.m. 


The Chumbhot-Pantip Conference Room, 4th Floor Prajadhipok-Rambhaibarni Building

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University



08.30 – 09.00 a.m.         Registration and Coffee

 09.00 – 09.10 a.m.        Welcome Remarks

                                       Prof. Dr. Supachai Yavaprabhas

                                       Dean, Faculty of Political Science

09.10 – 11.00 a.m.         Speakers

                                       Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn

                                       Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University

                                       Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sunait Chutintaranond

                                       Director, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University

                                       Assoc. Prof. Dr. Puangthong Pawakapan
                                       Department of International Relations
           Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

                                       H.E. Mr. Lutfi Rauf

                                       Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia

                                       and Permanent Representative to UN ESCAP


                                       Assoc. Prof. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak

         Director of ISIS Thailand

         Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

11.00 – 11.30 a.m.         Q&A




Video: Preah Vihear and Phra Viharn:  Pathways to A Shared Destiny

Preah Vihear and Phra Viharn:  Pathways to A Shared Destiny

Part 1/3 :

Pra Vih ear nd Phra Viharn:  Pathways to A Shared Destiny

Part 2/3 :

Preah Vihear and Phra Viharn:  Pathways to A Shared Destiny

Part 3/3 : 




Welcome remarks:         Prof.Supachai Yavaprabhas


                                         Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Professor Dr.Supachai Yavaprabhas gave welcome remarks and thanked all participants for their continuous support to the faculty. He hoped everyone would gain a greater understanding of this topic from the speakers.



The forum covered in different perspectives as articulated by academics and a diplomat. The speaker, professor Vitit, compared the “case of the Court” to a “Metaphor of the Mind” in the region. He noted that the written history had always focused on hate, distrust and dislike between the two kingdoms, not the actual relationship between local people. The root of the problem was caused of different personal power groups’ interests rather than between nations. Thailand and Cambodia have always strengthened relationship along the border from the time Cambodia was recognized as a State. The tight collaboration allows two nations to develop cross-border networks to enhance the people’s quality of living, education, and environment.

Professor Vitit went through the historical timeline of the Thailand and Cambodia temple dispute. The dispute was a consequence of the post-colonial period dating back to the 1962 World Court’s decision, with the presence of 12 judges voting. Basically, the Court repudiated Thailand’s claim over the temple. The Court found that Thailand was estopped by its own conduct from rejecting a map dating back to colonial times. The Court viewed this map as indicating that the temple belonged to Cambodia.

In retrospect, it is interesting to note that the Court’s decision was three-pronged which covered the last three of the five submissions, originally put by Cambodia to the Court and which read as follows;

“May it please the Court”

1.    To adjudge and declare that the map in the Dangrek sector (Annex I to the Memorial of Cambodia) was drawn up and published in the         name and on behalf of the Mixed Delimitation Commission set up by Treaty of 13 Febuary 1904, that it sets forth the decision taken by       the said Commission and that, by reason of that fact and also of the subsequent agreements and conduct of the Parties, it presents a treaty   character;

2.     To adjudge and declare that the frontier line between Cambodia and Thailand, in the disputed region in the neighborhood of the Temple     of Pheah Vihear, is that which marked on the map of the Commission of Delimitation between Indo-China and Siam (Annex I to the           Memorial of Cambodia);

3.     To adjudge and declare that the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Cambodia;

4.     To adjudge and declare that the Kingdom of Thailand is under an obligation to withdraw the detachments of armed forces it has stationed,   since 1954, in Cambodian territory, in the ruins of the Temple of Preah Vihear;

5.     To adjudge and declare that the sculptures, stelae, fragments of monuments, sandstone model and ancient pottery which have been               removed from the temple by the Thai authorities since 1954 are to be returned to the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia by the       Government of Thailand.

Basically, the Court judgment did not cover the first two submissions of Cambodia. It did not declare that the dispute map established the frontier line between the two countries. This led to the recent request by Cambodia to the Court to interpret the 1962 judgment and also to indicate provisional measures, pending the Court’s interpretation of that judgment.

The recent case in 2011 was the consequence of the 1962 judgement, related to the provisional measures, while the request for interpretation of the 1962 judgment has yet to be dealt with by the Court. Generally, the Court will only order provisional measures if there is a risk of irreparable harm to one of the parties. Although Thailand asked the Court to dismiss the request for provisional measures, the Court proceeded giving each party the right to defend their position.                                                              

Professor Vitit concluded his discussion noting that Thailand needs to respect the World Court’s ruling. Also, it is a challenge for all sectors including non-government organizations to prepare the people for the Court judgment. The Court case must be seen in a regional and global context rather than a separate case between two states. Thus, Thailand and Cambodia should learn to develop cross-cultural understanding through working with each other for the shared destiny they possess.

Dr.Sunait, the director of Institute of Asian Studies, highlighted the historical background of the indigenous Khmers and their ancient value system. Before Hinduism and Buddhist period, the Khmers settled around Khong River and in the surrounding mountains. Due to their strong belief in life after death and in the spirits of mountain, the worship sites were always built on top of the mountains as the connecting points between the people and the supernatural spirits. In the early 9th century, the Khmer people moved to Dangrek, the present disputed area on the Thai-Cambodian border meanwhile the Hinduism and Buddhism beliefs from India were brought to this region. As a peaceful integration and adaptation between religions and ancient beliefs, the Temple of Phreah Vihear was constructed as a dedication to Shiva, the Hindu god, for people to ritually pay their respects to the god. It was the first and the greatest site in this region.

The indigenous Thai and Khmers in the disputed zone always had a compassionate relationship until the colonial period when a western nationalism concept was raised in this area. The value of the Temple of Preah Vihear was characterized in a nationalistic ideological framework in Phnom Penh and in Bangkok. As a result, it became a question as to which nation the Temple of Preah Vihear belonged.  

According to Dr.Sunait’s opinion, it was undeniable that the Temple of Preah Vihear belongs to the Kingdom of Cambodia. However, he added that the temple should not belong to any particular group of people. It, thus, should be a public property for everyone from different origins to access and share their respect for the ancient architecture and symbolism, which constitutes a world cultural heritage. Also, he proposed that the negotiations should be changed from government to government level to people to people level. The Temple of Preah Vihear is the spiritual focal point of local people, they should be able to decide their own pathway in a collaborative ASEAN spirit.

Dr.Puangthong’s agreed with Professor Vitit that Thai and Khmers have had a collaborative friendship. However, Thai domestic politics has had a great influence on the dispute. In mid 2003 during Thaksin’s second administration, a well-developed relationship between Thaksin and Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, together with other neighboring country leaders including Vietnam and Laos, decided to promote tourism in this region. As a consequence, the government of Cambodia announced its intention to apply the Temple of Preah Vihear designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. In 2008, the World Heritage Committee decided to add the Temple of Preah Vihear to the World Heritage Site list.

When Thaksin was overthrown, Thailand’s political opposition brought up the issue to attack the following administrations because Mr.Noppadon Pattama, the Foreign Minister signed a joint communiqué wotj Cambpdia supporting Cambodia unilateral request for the listing of the Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage site. The diplomatic ties worsened especially during Abhisit’s administration. The ongoing conflict between Cambodia and Thailand over the land adjoining the site has led to periodic outbreaks of violence. Although the government at the time had tried to improve the relationship through cultural and economic ties, the situation remained unstable.  In 2011, the Yingluck government came to power and restored the relationship between the two States.

Dr.Puangthong suggested that there were 2 possible verdict outcomes. First, the Court might judge that the frontier line was the line drawn in 1908 (Annex I) as Cambodia claimed. This meant Thailand would lose 4.6 square kilometers around the temple. Second, the Court might not reinterpret the 1962 verdict and the area would remain in status quo. Regarding these 2 possible outcomes, Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to comply with the verdict. However, there was no response from the Thai government. In early 2013, the government appeared to prepare the people to accept the Court judgment in order to prevent a crisis if Thailand lost the case. The mainstream media had then misinformed to public that if Thailand lost the case, it would also lose ¼ of the north-eastern area. It would be an opportunity for the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) to overthrow the government again.

The success of any PAD protest would depend on other actors in Thai politics such as the Royal Thai Military. The dilemma between following the government’s order and the duty to protect the national territory would determine the stability of the present government. Dr.Puangthong suggested a positive outcome for a win-win situation for both parties would be for the two nations to encourage joint-development among local people in the disputed area as they occurred before 2008.

In a regional context, H.E.Rauf noted that there has not been a dispute settlement mechanism since the establishment of ASEAN. The main objective of ASEAN at the beginning was to promote social and economic collaboration between countries in the region. However, in the first decade of its existence, ASEAN virtually had no role in settling conflicts between member countries. No mechanism was created to systematically deal with conflicts. It was not until the first ASEAN Summit of 1976 that a mechanism for dealing with conflicts was created. The member countries signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), which required the signatories to respect the sovereignty of fellow member countries, to avoid intervention in their internal affairs, to solve problems between them peacefully, and to renounce the threat or use of force.

Indonesia began its mediator role by sending observers to the disputed area in order to allow both sides to withdraw their troops. Cambodia agreed to the proposal while Thailand did not make clear its position. However, as the ASEAN chair in 2011, Indonesia claimed that it has always been acting as a mediator and offered a hand to solve the problem for the interests of not only of the two countries but for ASEAN as a whole.

The case of the Temple of Preah Vihear has indicated an absence of dispute settlement mechanism in ASEAN that would lead to bilateral negotiations rather than regional rule. Dr.Thitinan concluded that this forum offering critical analysis of diverse view was to prepare the Thai public and every stakeholder for the possible outcomes and to find the best solution to deal with future ramification.