337th Meeting – Tuesday, August 23rd 2011


The Preah Vihear conflict and the current political debate in Thailand

A talk and presentation by Volker Grabowsky, Asia-Africa-Institute, University of Hamburg

Present: Peter Kouwenbueg, Reinhard Hohler, Dr. Pensupa Sukkata Jai-Inn, David James. Mangkhoot Norapong, Ian Bushell, David Steane, Guy Cardinal, Klaus Berkmüller, Daniel and Mukda Bellamy, William Starner, Brooke Schedneck, Ken Dyer, Derryck Titmus, Hans Bänziger, Zita Clarke, Beatrice Boles, Glynn Morgan, Pat Corey, Sue Offner, Art Halbisen, Frederike Neumann, John Cadet, Mason Imamura, Joe Norkar, Olivier Evrard, Louis Gabaude. An audience of 28.

The full text of Volker’s talk    

Dear Brian Hubbard, dear Louis Gabaude, dear ladies and gentlemen. I feel very honoured by your kind invitation to deliver a statement on the current conflict between Thailand and Cambodia which seems to focus on an old temple situated directly on the border between Cambodia and the Thai province of Sisaket; it is not far away from the “Emerald Triangle” (Thai: sam liam mòrakot สามเหลี่ยมมรกต) which links Thailand with Laos and Cambodia. (=> Foil 2: Map) This temple is at the core of a conflict the roots of which were laid more than a century ago at a time when Cambodia was under French colonial rule and Thailand still called by its old name of “Siam”. Even the name of the temple (prasat) is highly politicized. Shall we call it “Preah Vihear” according to Cambodian pronunciation or better adopt the Thai name “Phra Wihan”? (=> Foil 3: View of the temple)

Furthermore, is it an “ancient Khmer temple” as the Cambodians insist? Or do we need to call it an “ancient Hindu temple” as political correctness in Thailand demands? Actually it is both an ancient Hindu and an ancient Khmer temple. Contrary to what nationalists on both sides of the border might argue, the style of architecture, its religious meaning and its alleged ethno-historic background have been declared – luckily I would say – totally irrelevant in the 1962 judgement of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Only for the sake of simplicity and not because I have the intention to take sides in the conflict, I will use throughout my presentation the internationally preferred Cambodian name “Preah Vihear”.

The first time I heard of Preah Vihear was in 1979. At that time I was a young student of Southeast Asian history at a university in northern Germany. It was in June 1979 when the Temple made international headlines. More than 40,000 Cambodian refugees who had sought refuge in Thailand were sent back to their homeland via the Preah Vihear Temple. Hundreds, perhaps thousands died when they descended the steep path down to the plain of northern Cambodia where they were caught in the crossfire between remnants of the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese troops who had invaded and occupied their homeland.

Though I wondered why the Thais could exercise physical control of Preah Vihear, I had not the slightest doubt that this (Khmer) temple actually belonged to Cambodia. Twenty years later, in late 1998 and early 1999, when living and teaching in Vientiane, I got the chance to see Preah Vihear with my own eyes. Entering the Temple from the Thai side, I became fascinated by this masterpiece of architecture and even more fascinated by the unique landscape.

Standing at Pha Mò I-daeng (ผามออีแดง) and looking southwards to the forested lower plain of northern Cambodia, I understood at once the topography of the Khorat Plateau. In 1998, the damages inflicted upon the Temple during decades of warfare were still visible. I clearly remember the wreckage of a Vietnamese helicopter only some twenty or thirty metres from one of the gopuras. The stones of many temple buildings contained numerous bullet holes.

When I entered the Temple from the small provincial town of Kantaralak I had to pass the border station where Thai and Cambodian soldiers were sitting peacefully side by side and probably dividing the entrance fee of 100 Baht which each of the few tourists like myself had to pay. Frankly speaking, I felt a little bit curious that, given the topography, the Temple should be on Cambodian territory but the question of sovereignty was not an issue at all in 1998 when the Temple had just been made accessible again after many years of warfare and uncertainty.

Ten years later, in July 2008, the Preah Vihear temple made international headlines when fighting broke out between Thai and Cambodian troops. This was the point when I began to study the Preah Vihear conflict seriously. As an historian I became most interested in the primary sources, in particular the 1962 Judgement of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. 

The skirmishes between Thai and Cambodian troops in summer and autumn 2008 were preceded by a long-standing dispute on the inscription of the temple as Cambodian World Heritage in the UNESCO world heritage list.[1] Not only were the governments in Bangkok and Phnom Penh in conflict with each other; this was and still is also a conflict among rival political camps inside Thailand. On July 10th 2008, only two days after the decision of the UNESCO in favour of Cambodia, the then Thai Foreign Minister Nopphadon Patthama (นพดล ปัทมะ) declared his resignation, after the opposition had been accusing the Samak government to be too compliant towards the Cambodian standpoint. In Cambodia the decision of the UNESCO was cheered joyfully.[2] (=> Foil 4: Photo from Phnom Penh)

Why can an ancient temple, situated in a sparsely populated remote border area, still stir up nationalist emotions on both sides of the Thai-Cambodian border at the beginning of the twenty-first century? (=> Foil 5: Cartoon) Unlike hardly any other cultural monuments, Prasat Preah Vihear symbolises the vicissitudes of the relations between the two neighbours throughout the centuries.

In my presentation I will first discuss the temple itself and its cultural-historical significance. Then I will show how the temple became an object of dispute in later years. Thereafter, I will analyse the judgement of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of June 1962 with special emphasis on the judicial position of the Thai government since then. Finally I will show how this official position was used and manipulated by contending political camps in the current public discourse. (=> Foil 6: Structure of the presentation)

The temple and its historical significance

Please let me make a few remarks on the history of the temple. First it is needed to mention the unique topography. Prasat Preah Vihear is situated in an almost inaccessible forest area. The main sanctuary has been built on a rock of the Dongrak Mountains more than 500 metres above sea level (Pha Mo I-Daeng ผามออีแดง) (=> Foil 7: PV 1). This mountain range separates the Khorat Plateau from the plain of North Cambodia. The only accessible entrance to the temple comes from the North via the Thai district town of Kantharalak (Thai: กันทรลักษ์) in Sisaket province. From the Cambodian side the temple is only accessible by using a steep, narrow winding path. (=> Foil 8: PV 2) Prasat Preah Vihear offers spectacular scenery towards the South over the wide plain of North Cambodia.[3] (=> Foil 9: PV Ascendance)

The temple was a key architectural monument of the Khmer Empire and had been expanded by various kings. Preah Vihear is unique as the temple is built along a north-south axis, in contrast to the general rectangular construction plan of Khmer temples with an orientation towards the east. An 800-metre long ascendency, leading over staircases and several gate towers or gopuras ended at a platform in the centre of which was the main sanctuary. The Preah Vihear temple was originally devoted to the Hindu god Shiva.

We know from old inscriptions the original name of the temple: Śikhareśvara, “Summit of God Shiva” (Skt: śikhara + iśvara).[4]

At least since the rise of Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia to be the religion of the state at the end of the thirteenth century, was the Hindu temple transformed into a Buddhist monastery. The present-day name Prasat Preah Vihear probably derives from that time. This name is testified as Wihan Sawan (“Heavenly vihāra”) in the 1877 version of the Royal Chronicles of Cambodia, translated into Thai in 1917.[5] When the still powerful Khmer Empire began to reorientate itself towards the sea, the territories north of the Dongrak Mountains – i.e. today’s Isan – got out of the direct control of the Cambodian royal court. The Preah Vihear temple has since then been merely of local importance for the Kui or Suai people inhabiting the Dongrak Mountains on both sides of the present-day Thai-Cambodian border. It seems that the temple was abandoned completely in later times and only visited by forest monks for meditation practices. In the year 1899 the Siamese High Commissioner (kha luang thesaphiban) of Monthon Isan visited the inaccessible area south of Kantharalak and discovered by mere chance the temple ruins, overgrown by climbing plants.[6] (=> Foil 10: PV 3)

The Siamese- French Treaties of 1904 and 1907 and their aftermath

The late “discovery” of the temple more than 110 years ago reflected the geographical isolation of the frontier on both sides of the Dongrak mountain range. The Siamese state which had conquered the whole region in the last quarter of the eighteenth century exercised only a nominal control over this border land by the end of the nineteenth century. With the introduction of a centralised system of administration, along the lines which the European colonial powers had implemented in most of their possessions in Southeast Asia, Siam also took over the Western concept of a territorial state with clearly defined borders.[7]

When the so called Pak Nam Incident in July 1893 forced Siam to cede all territories on the eastern bank of the Mekong River to France and to accept a 25-kilometres wide “demilitarized zone” on the western bank, the process of administrative centralisation was already in full swing.[8] (=> Foil 11: Map of territorial cessions) In this time of change the “discovery” of Prasat Preah Vihear took place. In the same year, 1899, new border negotiations between Siam and France resumed. The Lao rulers of Luang Prabang and Champassak demanded the return of those parts of their principalities which were situated on the western bank of the Mekong River and thus had remained under Siamese control after 1893. Moreover, France demanded further territorial concession in exchange for the abolishment of the demilitarized zone and the withdrawal of French troops from the seaport of Chanthaburi.

The tedious negotiations resulted in the border treaty of February 13th 1904. This treaty stipulated the border between Siam and the French protectorate of Cambodia in Article 1 as follows:

“The frontier between Siam and Cambodia starts, on the left shore of the Great Lake, from the mouth of the river Sung Roluos, it follows the parallel from that point in the easterly direction until it meets the river Prek Kompong Tiam, then, turning northwards, it merges with the meridian from that meeting-point as far as the Pnom Dang Rek mountain chain. From there it follows the watershed between the basins of the Nam Sen and the Mekong, on the one hand, and the Nam Moun, on the other hand, and joins the Pnom Padang chain the crest of which it follows eastwards as far as the Mekong. Upstream from that point, the Mekong remains the frontier of the Kingdom of Siam, in accordance with Article I of the Treaty of 3 October 1893.”[9] (=> Explanations according to the Map above)

None of the above mentioned Articles contained any stipulation pertaining to Prasat Preah Vihear in particular. This is not astonishing, as the temple had not yet entered the public consciousness of either the Siamese or the Cambodian national elites. Prior to 1899 the very existence of the temple was unknown not only in Bangkok but also in Phnom Penh and in Hanoi where the French colonial administration for Indochina had its seat. The proceedings of the Siamese-French border commission of the years provide evidence that Prasat Peah Vihear was not given any significance for the discussing the exact borderline.

The Treaty of March 23rd 1907, which amended and replaced the treaty of 1904, determined that a team of four French experts should map the results of the mixed Siamese-French border commission. The Siamese side at that time did not possess any comparable expertise and thus had to trust the accuracy of the French cartographers. One of the eleven maps, which were added in late autumn 1907 as appendices to the new border treaty of 1907 (each map had a scale of 1:200.000), show the borderline running slightly north of Prasat Preah Vihear. All eleven maps were obviously accepted by the Siamese side.[10] (=> Foil 12: Map of 1907)

Which position did Siam and France, respectively Cambodia after this country gained independence in 1953, implement with regard to the crucial question of who had the right to exercise sovereignty over Prasat Preah Vihear and its vicinity? There are five major incidents or developments which are of vital importance for fully understanding the judgement of the International Court of Justice in 1962:

1.)  In the period from 1907 to 1929 there was no visible presence of state authority, neither from the French nor from the Siamese government. Visits of Cambodian or French officials from Kompong Thom province, to which the Dongrak sector near Preah Vihear belonged, are not documented. But also the Siamese side could only claim a few sporadic visits from the district seat of Kantharalak situated 15 kilometres north of the temple complex. However, it is reported that the inhabitants of a small village situated in the vicinity of Prasat Preah Vihear continued to pay taxes to the provincial authorities of Khukhan (later: Sisaket) province.[11] During the whole period from 1907 to 1929 Prasat Preah Vihear was not given any remarkable publicity in Siamese, Cambodian or French media.

2.)  This situation changed in early 1930. On January 29th 1930, Somdet Krom Phraya Damrong Rachanuphap (a younger brother of King Chulalongkorn and former Minister of Interior) visited Prasat Preah Vihear together with one of his daughters and several Siamese officials from the nobility. (=> Foil 13: Photo with Prince Damrong 1) The prince who was also a well-known expert in Thai and Southeast Asian archaeology was greeted in Preah Vihear by the French governor of Kompong Thom and by Henri Parmentier. (=> Foils 14 and 15: Prince Damrong with Parmentier 2 & 3) The famous architect and art-historian Parmentier, member of the École française d’Extrême-Orient, led Prince Damrong personally through the temple complex and gave the Siamese guests some expert explanations. Several years later, Damrong published the impressions of his visit along with several photos in his book “Report on a survey of archaeological sites in monthon Nakhòn Ratchasima (จดหมายเหตุการเสด็จตรวจโบราณวัตถุสถานมณฑลนครราชสีมา). Although he undertook his visit to Preah Vihear as a private person, Prince Damrong, who at that time held the position as Chief of the Supreme State Council (อภิรัฐมนตรี), was welcome by his French hosts as a high-ranking state-guest. What is more, Damrong had to swallow a “bitter pill” when the French tricolor was hoisted for his “welcome”.[12] As Damrong’s daughter remarked many years later, her father did not dare to protest, given the arrogant and intrusive behaviour of the French and given the painful experiences of the past.[13]

3.)  In 1934/35 the Siamese government of Phot Phahonyothin sent a survey mission to investigate the border in the Dongrak mountain range and, in particular, to determine the precise borderline in the Preah Vihear area. It was discovered for the first time that the French map of 1907 (also called “Annex 1 map”) showed an erroneous borderline placing the temple on the wrong side. The real watershed was not running north of the temple but directly below the rock on which the main sanctuary of Preah Vihear is situated. A second survey two years later confirmed this result.[14] It was evident that the French experts made a fundamental mistake in 1907 when mapping the creek O’Tasem. The creek was running slightly further south than determined in 1907.[15] (=> Foil 16: Course of the watershed) In 1937, Prasat Preah Vihear was declared national Thai cultural heritage, but it was only in 1939 that Luang Vichitr Vadakarn, the then Director-General of the Department of Fine Arts (Krom Sinlapakòn), objected to the French map of 1907. The government of Field Marshal Phibun Songkhram tried in vain to obtain a new agreement with the French authorities in Indochina. In a public declaration on October 11th 1940, the government in Bangkok unilaterally placed Prasat Preah Vihear and the territory north of the actual watershed under Thai protection. The temple was inscribed by the Department of Fine Arts as an ancient archaeological monument of Thailand. Thereafter, a small group of soldiers was sent to hoist the Thai flag over Prasat Preah Vihear.[16]

4.)  After a short and victorious military campaign against the French colonial troops in Indochina, the Convention of Tokyo was concluded through the mediation of Japan on January 28th 1941. The Convention envisaged the retrocession to Thailand of all territories ceded to France in 1904 and 1907. Through this stipulation Preah Vihear was placed once again under Thai sovereignty. (=> Foil 17: Territorial gains in 1941) After the war, Thailand had to return all territories that she got during World War II and by end of 1946 the status quo ante was restored.[17] However, the Thai troops were not withdrawn from the Preah Vihear temple and its surrounding. The government in Bangkok always assumed that both the Franco-Siamese treaty of 1904 and that of 1907 determined the watershed as the border line in the Dongrak region. The watershed that counted in the view of the Thai was the real one not the obviously mistaken one on which the Annex I map was based. Three years later, in 1949, with the consent of the Cambodian colonial government France filed an official complaint against Thailand. The complaint demanded the total withdrawal of the Thai civilian and military personal from Preah Vihear.[18] Thailand ignored this demand and clung to the status quo. There was no further official protest from the French side until the release of Cambodia into complete independence in November 1953.

5.)  Shortly thereafter the government in Phnom Penh sent three guardians to watch the Temple, but they were sent back by the Thai authorities. When the Cambodian ambassador in Bangkok informed the Thai government about his own government’s intention to dispatch troops to Prasat Preah Vihear to take possession of the Temple, an armed police unit was immediately sent to the area to prevent such action of the Cambodian authorities. In spite of Cambodian protests, the status quo with Thai physical presence in the Preah Vihear area remained unchallenged during the next four years.[19] It seemed that the influential governor of Siem Reap province, Dap Chuen, turned a blind eye to the Thai presence in Preah Vihear. Due to domestic political problems in Cambodia and fostered by the ascension to power of the authoritarian nationalist military regime of Marshal Sarit Thanarat in Bangkok, the smouldering conflict escalated in the summer 1958 and culminated in the severance of relations in November of the same year.[20] In October 1959, the government in Phnom Penh appealed to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to make a final decision on the sovereignty of Prasat Preah Vihear.[21]

The Judgment of The Hague of 15 June 1962 and its Consequences

It took almost three more years until the International Court of Justice (ICJ) pronounced a judgement. To reconstruct and analyse in detail the proceedings of the Preah Vihear Case would be beyond the scope of this presentation and my competence because complex questions of international law would have to be addressed. Thus I would like to undertake the more modest endeavour to summarize only the judgement as such and its most relevant reasoning. First of all, it should be emphasized that the Preah Vihear Case probably was one of the most complicated and most contested cases about which the ICJ had to render a judgement.[22] The ICJ had to decide on the following five demands of the Cambodian government. (=> Foil 18)

1.   The binding character of the French map of 1907 according to international law;

2.   The fixation of the Thai-Cambodian border in the Dongrak sector according to the above mentioned map;

3.   The sovereignty of Cambodia over Prasat Preah Vihear;

4.   The obligation of Thailand to withdraw her military forces “from the ruins of the Preah Vihear temple”;

5.   The restitution of all objects of cultural value which Thailand had removed from the temple.

1.) As to the first two demands of the Cambodian side – namely a.) To determine that the French map of 1907 had binding character according to international law; and b.) To define the actual border between Cambodia and Thailand in correspondence to this map – the ICJ made the decision that these two demands were beyond the jurisdiction of the Court [The exact course of state borders have to be determined by bilateral negotiations between the concerned states.]

2.) However, the ICJ evaluated the first two Cambodian demands indirectly, by using the validity of the French map as a major argument with regard to the demands 3–5 of the Cambodian government.

3.) The ICJ decided with nine to three votes in favour of the demands 3 and 4. It stipulated that a.) Preah Vihear was situated on “territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia; and b.) That Thailand was obliged to withdraw from the temple and its “vicinity” all military and police forces as well as other security personnel.

4.) The ICJ decided with seven to five votes that Thailand was obliged to restitute to Cambodia all artifacts which had been removed from the temple or its surroundings since 1954.

The “Yes Votes” phrased the judgement of the majority, basing their arguments above all on the validity of the French map of autumn 1907 (scaled 1:200,000) and secondly on the absent protest of the Thai authorities against this map. Also, in the view of the majority of judges the fact that Prince Damrong never complained against the hoisting of the French national flag during his visit of Preah Vihear in early 1930 was interpreted as tacit consent. Because of Damrong’s high-ranking position in the Siamese state apparatus, the private character of his visit – as emphasized by the Thai side – was refuted. Damrong’s archaeological fact-finding mission was given an at-least “half-official” character.[23]

The dissenting opinions of those judges rejecting the Cambodian demands strongly emphasized the claims of the Thai government to exercise sovereignty over Preah Vihear. The longest and most detailed dissenting opinion was given by the Australian judge, Sir Percy Spender, who did meticulous historical research by studying in-depth the proceedings of the proceedings of the mixed Franco-Siamese commission of 1904–1907.

The dissenting opinions focused on the circumstance that neither Siam nor France ever departed or intended to depart from the principle of the watershed as borderline in the Dongrak sector. Expert opinions of several internationally recognized geologists from the Netherlands had proven that the watershed between the Nam Mun and the Mekong was running directly below Prasat Preah Vihear, not only in 1962 but also at the beginning of the twentieth century. Moreover, the Australian judge Sir Percy Spender argued that the French map was not binding according to international law as it did not bear the signatures of any high-ranking French government official.[24]

The judgement of The Hague was greeted with storms of enthusiasm all over Cambodia. In Thailand, on the other hand, the judgement sparked off waves of protests. People were in shock and called the day when the ICJ announced its judgement the “Shameful June 15th 1962” (15 มิถุนาวันอัปยศ).

After the stormy protests had faded away and the Thai legal experts had examined in detail the (definitely ambiguous) judgement of The Hague, Foreign Minister Thanat Khòman (ถนัด คอมันตร์) announced on July 6th 1962 the official statement of the Thai government.[25] (=> Foil 19: Map showing the disputed zone) This statement became the basis of the legal viewpoint of all Thai governments ever since:

1.)  The ICJ has not made any decision on the course of the border or the legally binding character of the French map of 1907. Therefore, Thailand continues to claim the whole territory north of the real watershed in the Preah Vihear sector.

2.)  Although the ICJ does not possess any means to enforce the implementation of its judgement, Thailand will nevertheless submit to all three decisions of the Court, though under protest. That means the Thai government recognizes that the temple, but only the temple, is under Cambodian sovereignty. But as for the rest of the territory that is situated between the “real border” (defined by the watershed, according to the Thai standpoint) and the borderline marked in the French map, this land is considered as part of Thailand. Therefore, Thai troops should only be withdrawn from the temple itself and its immediate vicinity, not from the other territory which the government in Phnom Penh considered as land under Cambodian sovereignty. In this context it was of great symbolic importance that the Thai soldiers, when withdrawing from Preah Vihear, did not lower their national flag but cut through the flagpole at its base and carried it, with the flag still at full mast but without allowing it to touch the ground, out of the temple.

3.)  Decision 5 of the judgement is irrelevant as artifacts stolen by the Thai would not exist. Indeed, the Cambodian government was unable to present a list of such artifacts neither at The Hague nor afterwards.

This official Thai position, though unchanged over the following decades, was not without ambiguities. The government in Bangkok soon produced a map with a scale of 1:50,000 delineating the border in the Preah Vihear border region. The border line marked on that map followed the real watershed and left only the Preah Vihear temple and its immediate surroundings on the Cambodian side of the border.[26] Thai military strongman, Prime Minister Sarit, solemnly declared to the Thai people: “Even though Cambodia gained Prasat Preah Vihear, it got only the broken ruins and only the land bearing Prasat Preah Vihear. The soul of Prasat Preah Vihear will, however, permanently stay with us Thai. The Thai people will always remember that our Prasat Preah Vihear has been stolen.”[27] Some people in Thailand event went further and argued contrary to the ICJ’s ruling that their country was forced only to recognize Cambodian sovereignty over the Temple but that this would not include the land upon which the Temple was built. On the other side, the Cambodian government insisted that the ICJ Judgement of June 15th 1962 had solved the Thai-Cambodian border conflict in the Preah Vihear area once and for all. It insisted that the Judgement was not restricted to its operative parts alone but included the reasoning parts as well.[28]

In the years and decades following the ICJ’s ruling, in bilateral negotiations the Thai and Cambodian governments failed to agree on a final delineation of their 800 km long border, including the Preah Vihear section. This failure is basically related to political developments in Cambodia. In 1970, Cambodia became a sideshow in the second Indochina War. During two decades of civil war, foreign intervention and murderous revolution, several Cambodian regimes and resistance movements became dependent on Thai political, military, and humanitarian support. They accepted relunctantly a modus vivendi, which allowed the Thai a largely unrestricted access to the temple complex. A new situation occured in 1997 after the full restoration of peace in Cambodia.

Preah Vihear as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site

Having analysed the historical background of the Preah Vihear conflict, I would like to have a look at the political dynamics of the current dispute.

At the beginning of the last decade Cambodia and Thailand were seriously planning to jointly inscribe the contested temple on the UNESCO World Heritage List. On June 7th 2000, the governments in Phnom Penh and Bangkok (the latter still under Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai of the Democrat Party) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) “on the Survey and Demarcation of Land Boundary” which sought to pave the way for a solution of the Preah Vihear dispute and other unresolved border problems. A Joint Boundary Commission was established for that purpose. From 2002 until 2007 there was an ongoing discussion between both sides as to whether Thailand should give her consent to Cambodia’s decision to nominate Prasat Preah Vihear as a Cambodian World Heritage site or whether the Temple should be jointly nominated by Thailand and Cambodia. Finally, in 2007, Cambodia requested a unilateral registration.[29] This move was objected to by the military-appointed Thai government of General Surayudh which tried to persuade the Cambodian side to accept a joint Cambodian-Thai inscription of Preah Vihear as a UNESCO World Heritage site. One of the main arguments was that the only practical access to the temple was from the Thai side of the border. Besides, several smaller temples and water reservoirs were situated in the “contested zone” claimed by both countries. At the 31st annual UNESCO meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2007 the Thai government insisted on that solution which prompted the UNESCO to postpone a decision to the 32nd annual meeting in Quebec in July 2008. But in spring 2008 the Samak government changed the Thai position and accepted the registration of Prasat Preah Vihear as an exclusively Cambodian World Heritage site.[30]

Foreign Minister Nopphadon Patthama declared the Memorandum of Understanding which he had negotiated with the Cambodian side as an important diplomatic success of his government because the Cambodian government had taken the pledge to restrict the registration of Prasat Preah Vihear to the territory immediately surrounding the temple, presenting a map in order to prove that no parts of the “disputed zone” were part of the deal. The “Joint Thai-Cambodian Declaration” did not imply an agreement on the border at the Preah Vihear sector.

The then parliamentary opposition, however, appealed to the Supreme Constitutional Court which decided that the “Joint Declaration” indeed had a legally binding character and therefore needed approval by the parliament, according to Article 190 of the Thai constitution of 2007. As the government had missed to obtain parliamentary approval before signing the “Joint Declaration”, the government needed either to seek this approval afterwards or to revoke the “Joint Declaration”. Facing growing public pressure, especially from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (“Yellow Shirts”), the Samak government chose the second option. The government of Somchai Wongsawat who succeeded Samak as Prime Minister in August 2008 even sent a letter to the President of the UN Security Council stating that Thailand “does not recognize [the Annex I] under the Memorandum of Understanding in 2000 as the basis for demarcation.”[31] In the view of Cambodian law experts this was, however, a futile attempt to avoid an eventual recognition of the Thai-Cambodian border on the basis of the French-drawn map of 1907, as the MoU of 2000 was “a binding international agreement.”[32]

The Preah Vihear Discourse in Thailand

In the following chapter I want to discuss how the conflict was perceived in the Thai public and how it was exploited by the contending political factions for their respective political agendas. The many publications on this matter which have appeared in Thailand during the last three years can roughly be divided into three main groups reflecting three very different approaches to a solution of the Preah Vihear dispute. The first approach can be labeled a “hard-line” approach which demands that any Thai government should be uncompromising in the defence of Thailand’s legal position which had been left unchanged since 1962. This approach is most strongly advocated by the “People’s Alliance for Democracy” – the so called Yellow Shirt movement – and called “ultra-nationalist” by its enemies. The second, more flexible approach advocates compromises with the Cambodian side to reach an end of the deadlock though, if feasible, not at the expense of Thai sovereignty over the 4.6 km2 large disputed area. The second tendency is supported with variations by the main political parties, including the Democrats and the pro-Thaksin “Phüa Thai Party”, as well as probably a majority of the Red Shirt movement. A third and last approach is supported by radical intellectuals and a minority of the Thai public. It favours Thai acceptance of the Cambodian legal position as an unavoidable price which the Thai people have to pay to live in peace with their eastern neighbour. The three approaches are discussed by analyzing paradigmatically their most prominent publications.

1.)  Phuchatkan Editorial Board (ed.) กองบรรณาธิการผู้จัดการเรียบเรียง 2008. ปราสาทพระวิหาร ความจริงที่ คนไทยต้องรู้ [Prasat Phra Wihan: The Truth which the Thai should know]. Bangkok. (=> Foil 20: Book cover)

      The editors of this volume are close to the “People’s Alliance for Democracy” (PAD or พันธมิตรประชาชนเพื่อประชาธิปไตย) which was fighting with non-parliamentarian methods – blockade of the government house and Suvarnabhumi International Airport – the Thai prime ministers Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat as “nominees” of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The editors of this book take a decidedly nationalist standpoint with regard to the sovereignty over Prasat Preah Vihear as is clearly visible at the book cover which shows the Thai national flag flying over the temple ruins – instead of the Cambodian flag as is the reality.

      The anonymous authors of this book accuse the Samak government of abandoning unilaterally Thailand’s claims on Prasat Preah Vihear, a claim to which all Thai governments since 1962 had abided by. Furthermore, Cambodia, now encouraged by the decision of the UNESCO, would be tempted to enforce her sovereignty over the 4.6 km2 “disputed zone” as well. If the Cambodian side started to build hotels, markets, police stations and customs facilities, or even a casino in this zone, it could do so relying upon the backing of the International Community. Moreover, the Samak government was accused of having secretly abandoned Thai sovereignty over Prasat Preah Vihear (including the disputed area) in exchange of economic concession of the Hun Sen government to the Shinawatra Corporation in the coastal province of Koh Kong in southwestern Cambodia.[33] (=> Foil 21) The book also contains as an appendix a transcript of PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul’s famous speech of May 9th 2008 in which he explained for the first time what he called the Samak government’s “hidden agenda” on the Preah Vihear issue. Sondhi appeals repeatedly to Thai patriotism, but he does so without insulting the Cambodian people and its culture. Even Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is not personally attacked as Sondhi’s main target is the Thai government and its unwillingness to defend “national interests”. He states (p. 103):

      “I do not want our people, our descendants, accuse him (Samak, VG) of selling the nation only for getting advantages with regard to gas concessions, which a certain person (Thaksin, VG) currently negotiates with Prime Minister Hun Sen. I do not accuse him, but I do not want this to happen. I want him, our Prime Minister, to be cautious. I am sure that he loves the nation, that he loves the country. But so far he has not taken any concrete action in any of the issues which I raised. He has not yet demonstrated his love for the people. … He has allowed the Cambodians to nominate [Prasat Preah Vihear] unilaterally. This gives rise to the suspicion that he might be involved in the conspiracy to hand Prasat Preah Vihear over to Cambodia in exchange for gas concessions.”

      Other publications of the PAD network contain similar allegations of a political conspiracy of the pro-Thaksin forces to abandon Thai claims on Prasat Preah Vihear for economic benefits elsewhere. Most of these publications are of limited analytical value, when compared to the one presented above. They are clearly not written for an academic audience but for providing arguments on the “political battlefield”.

2.)  Bowornsak Uvanno ศ. ดร. บวรศักดิ์ อุวรรณโณ ราชบัณฑิต 2008. แฉเอกสาร „ลับที่สุด“ ปราสาท พระวิหาร พ.ศ. ๒๕๐๕-๒๕๕๑ [Disclosing “top secret” documents on Prasat Phra Wihan, AD 1962–2008]. Bangkok: Matichon. (=> Foil 22: Book cover)

      The author of this book, Professor Bowornsak Uvanno, a member of the Thai Royal Insitute, is one of the leading Thai experts on international law. From 1988 to 1990 Achan Bowornsak was part of the young advisor team of Prime Minister Chatichai Chunhawan; thereafter he worked for various governments as legal advisor, including the governments of Thaksin Shinawatra and of Surayudh Chulanont. Bowornsak's political position is that of a Thai patriotism which is based on the recognition of the reality. The author argues that the Thai people should accept the 1962 judgement of the ICJ painful as this may be for many Thai. Instead of dreaming to regain the temple itself, Thai diplomacy should concentrate on defending the Thai claims on the “disputed zone”. Therefore the book cover does not show like in the previous one the Thai flag over the ruins of the Preah Vihear temple but the national flag of Cambodia as is the reality of today.

      A similar line of arguments is taken by Vichitvong na Pombejra’s more popular book ปราสาทพระวิหาร มุมมองใหม่ในบริบทของประวัติศาสตร์ความเกี่ยวข้องระหว่างไทยกับกัมพูชา [The Phra Wihan Temple: New Perspectives in the Context of Thai-Cambodian History] (Bangkok 2009). The author endorses a reconciliation of Thai and Cambodian national interests on the basis of “peace, friendship and brotherhood” as the final chapter of his book is entitled. Vichitvong arrives at the final conclusion that “at the same time the World Committee would be happy if both countries expressed their intention to adjust the status of Prasat Preah Vihear to become their joint World Heritage of which there are already examples in many places of the world.” (p. 136).

3.)  Charnvit Kasetsiri ชาญวิทย์ เกษตรศิริ 2008. ปราสาทเขาพระวิหาร หลุมดำ-ลัทธิชาตินิยม-ประวัติศาสตร์แผลเก่า-ประวัติศาสตร์ตัดตอน-กับบ้านเมืองของเรา [Preah Vihear Temple: A Black Hole-Nationalism-Wounded History and Our Country: Siam-Thailand]. Bangkok: The Foundation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbooks Project. (=> Foil 23: Book cover)

      Charnvit Kasetsiri is one of the most influential Thai historians of today. The former rector of Thammasat University is a harsh critic of an ethnic Thai nationalism. For this reason he has been campaigning for quite a while to abandon the country’s official name “Thailand” and replace it by the old name Siam (Sayam). In the Preah Vihear debate Charnvit, together with a number of other Thai intellectuals adopts a decidedly anti-nationalistic perspective.

      Charnvit claims that King Chulalongkorn had concluded the border treaties with England and France for reasons of state. This great monarch considered the “loss” of Malay, Lao, and Cambodian territories as necessary – and even inevitable – sacrifices to ensure the independence and sovereignty of Siam: “All this happened in order to live in peace with the colonial powers France and England. In particular, it was a guarantee to safeguard the ‘independence and sovereignty’ (เอกราชและอธิปไตย) of the major part of the country. At the same time this meant that the Siamese nobility was able to maintain its own position of power. This indeed brought about the rise of the ‘absolute monarchy’ (สมบูรณาญาสิทธิราชย์).”[34] Only the nationalist regime of Marshal Phibun Songkhram, which emerged not long after the abolition of the absolute monarchy and changed the country’s name to “Thailand” in 1939, initiated a discourse on so called “territorial losses” of Siam in order to achieve acceptance of a chauvinistic and expansionist foreign policy. In the wake of this discourse even ancient Khmer temples such as Prasat Preah Vihear were “discovered” as Thai cultural heritage. The campaign of the PAD and the Democrat Party, Charnvit argues, is part of a dubious tradition of anti-Khmer Thai chauvinism.[35]

      In a more recent book publication (2009) – ลัทธิชาตินิยมไทย/สยามกับกัมพูชา และกรณีศึกษาปราสาทเขาพระวิหาร [Siamese/Thai Nationalism and Cambodia: A Case Study of the Preah Vihear Temple] – Charnvit expands his arguments outlined above. Special emphasis is given to Prince Damrong’s friendly attitude towards the French. Charnvit argues that Damrong and many other princes of his generation had genuinely accepted Siam’s territorial losses during the 1893-1909 period. Damrong’s friendly attitude towards his French hosts when visiting the Preah Vihear temple in January 1930 thus was not just “oriental politeness” but a reflection of honest feelings. As further evidence to substantiate this argument, Charnvit quotes from a book published in 1925 to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of King Vajiravudh’s ascension to the throne. This volume states that “Siam and France were getting closer and their relationship prospered” (แต่สยามกับฝรั่งเศสก็เริ่มสนิธกันและเจริญขึ้น).[36]

Advocating a “broad and open-minded” new form of nationalism” which he also calls pracha-chat niyom (“popular nationalism”), Charnvit proposes his solution of the “deadlock” in the Preah Vihear controversy. Among four possible scenarios he rejects two as either unrealistic or dangerous, namely a new appeal by Thailand to the ICJ to revoke its 1962 judgement; and the military occupation of Prasat Preah Vihear and the disputed area. A third alternative, namely negotiations on the basis of the Thai-Cambodian MoU of June 2000, would be more reasonable. The preferred solution, however, is the fourth alternative: the acceptance of a new way of thinking based on the “relinquishing” (ปลง) of all territorial claims in the Preah Vihear area. In other words, the Thai people should accept without reservation the Cambodian sovereignty over the temple and the disputed zone (pp. 172ff.).

It should be stressed that a rejection of Thai nationalism in the Preah Vihear controversy does not necessarily mean a support of the Cambodian legal viewpoint. The respected Thai archaeologist Sisak Wanliphodom, whose pioneering role in the study of the Khmer and Lao dominated pre- and early history of northeast Thailand is widely acknowledged, emphasizes that the ruling elites in Bangkok and Phnom Penh were never genuinely interested in Prasat Preah Vihear, but for the local Khmer and Kui people living on both sides of the Dongrak mountain range this sanctuary has always been of vital importance. Therefore, any solution of the conflict should in the first place address the needs of the local population, not those of the national elites in Thailand and Cambodia.[37] As a member of the Thai People’s Network (เครือข่ายประชาชนชาวไทย) Achan Sisak demanded in a petition to the Thai government, dated January 26th 2009, that Thailand should either hold back or withdraw its consent to the inscription of Prasat Preah Vihear on the UNESCO World Heritage List.[38]


What are the prospects for solving the conflict on Preah Vihear respectively Phra Wihan? When the conflict started to become violent three years ago, I predicted that the Cambodian government would be tempted to use the registration of Preah Vihear as a UNSESCO World Heritage Site to internationalize the conflict with Thailand and thus put pressure on the Thai government to yield to the Cambodian legal viewpoint. Exactly this has happened now when Phnom Penh invoked the ICJ in The Hague to make a final and binding decision on the border in the Preah Vihear sector. But for what reason should the ICJ depart from the principle that border disputed among states should be solved exclusively through bilateral negotiations? Why should the ICJ make now a judgement on Cambodian demands which it refused to deal with in the operative clause of its judgement half a century ago? As Virachai Plasai, Thai representative at the ICJ hearing on May 30th 2011, aptly remarked, “Reversing the logical order, Cambodia is asking the Court to interpret the reasoning in its 1962 Judgement in light of the operative part.”[39]

The Cambodian government is pushing vigorously towards a quick solution. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to visit Preah Vihear each year.[40] Before the escalation of the conflict in summer 2008, more than 60,000 tourists came to visit Preah Vihear from the Thai side of the border against less than 4,000 entering the temple from the Cambodian side. That is not astonishing, given the present-day infrastructure and the natural environment. Hotels and other facilities will be built in the wider vicinity of the temple which comprises large parts of the zone claimed by both countries. The Cambodian side has already created such faits accomplis by building a Buddhist temple (Wat Kaeo Sikkhakhirisawara วัดแก้วสิกขาคีรีสวาระ) and several residential buildings in the disputed zone. It is even reported that three hamlets with 500-600 settlers from central Cambodia were built by the Cambodian government close to the Prasat Preah Vihear on territory claimed by Thailand. These faits accomplis would most probably be used by any future ruling of the ICJ as a proof of “effective Cambodian control” of the 4.6 km2 disputed zone, as Thai historian Suwit Thirasasawat predicts.[41] Any Thai government, be it the former Democrat-led coalition or the new government mostly led by the Phüa Thai Party, will be pressured by nationalist forces to safeguard the territorial integrity of Thailand.

There does not remain much time for a solution of a problem that started almost exactly a century ago due to borders drawn by colonial powers in Southeast Asia, then half a century later kept the International Court of Justice busy in a protracted and most complicated law case and nowadays places two countries before the alternative: Shall an ancient Hindu temple be used as a pretext to assert national prestige and legal viewpoints of the respective nation-state? Or should the temple not better be used to the advantage of both countries and peoples?

Perhaps it is not yet too late to have Prasat Preah Vihear inscribed as a joint World Heritage of Cambodia and Thailand. The UNESCO decision of June 2008 still leaves this option open by stating that it recognizes “that Thailand has repeatedly expressed a desire to participate in a joint nomination of the Temple of Preah Vihear and its surrounding areas” and by considering further “that archaeological research is underway which could result in new significant discoveries that might enable consideration of a possible new trans-boundary nomination, that would require the consent of both Cambodia and Thailand.”[42]

(... pause) (=> Foil 24: Thanks)

Distinguished guests, thanks for your attention.

After the question and answer session the meeting adjourned to the Alliance Cafeteria where members of the audience engaged Volker in more informal conversation over a beer, or two.





A. In Thai

Anucha Paephannawan 2008. Exclusive kan müang … khao phra wihan [Exclusive Politics … The Phra Wihan Temple]. Bangkok: Khlün aksòn.

Bowornsak Uvanno 2008. Chae ekkasan ‘lap thi sut’ prasat phra wihan ph.s. 2505–2551 [Disclosing “Top Secret” Documents on the Preah Vihear Temple, AD 1962–2008]. Bangkok.

Bunruam Thiamcan et al. (eds.) 2007. Thai phae khadi sia dindaen hai khamen (khadi khao phra wihan) [Thailand loses the Case and Loses Land to Cambodia (The Phra Wihan Case)]. Bangkok: Animate Group.

––– 2008. Khrai dai khrai sia: khwam khatyaeng thi banplai prasat khao phra wihan [Who Wins, Who Loses? The Escalating Phra Wihan Temple Conflict]. Bangkok: Animate Group.

Charnvit Kasetsiri 2008. Prasat khao phra wihan: lum dam latthi chatniyom prawattisat phlae kao prawattisat tat ton kap ban-müang khòng rao [Preah Vihear Temple: A Black Hole-Nationalism-Wounded History and Our Country: Siam-Thailand]. Bangkok: The Foundation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbooks Project.

––– 2009. Latthi chatniyom thai / sayam kap kamphucha: lae kòrani süksa prasat khao phra wihan [Siamese/Thai Nationalism and Cambodia. A Case Study of the Preah Vihear Temple]. Bangkok: Toyota Thailand Foundation and The Foundation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbooks Project.

Duangthida Ramet 2009. Prasat phra wihan: khwam khatyaeng talòtkan khòng sòng prathet [The Phra Wihan Temple: A Permanent Conflict Between Two Countries?]. Bangkok: Magic Press.

Luang Rüangdet Anan 2007. Ratchaphongsawadan krung kampucha [The Royal Chronicles of Cambodia], 2nd edition, Bangkok.

Kham phiphaksa san yutthitham rawang prathet khadi prasat phra wihan ph.s. 2505. [The Judgement of the International Court of Justice on the Preah Vihear Temple Case, AD 1962] 2008. Bangkok: Khlet Thai.

Krasuang kan tang prathet 2008. Kòrani khün thabian prasat phra wihan pen mòradok lok [The Case of Registering the Preah Vihear Temple as World Heritage]. Bangkok.

Onanong Thippimol (ed.) 2010. Khetdaen sayam prathet thai-malesia-phama-lao-kamphucha [Boundaries of Siam/Thailand-Malaysia-Burma-Laos-Cambodia]. Bangkok: The Foun­dation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbooks Project.

Phichit Saengtong 2008. Phromdaen bon phaen kradat prasat khao phra wihan [Border on a Sheet of Paper: The Phra Wihan Temple]. Bangkok: Khlet Thai.

Phiphop Udon 2008. Kòrani prasat phra wihan rawang thai-kampucha: rian khon la dan khòng ngoen khon la sakun [The Dispute between Thailand and Cambodia on Prasat Phra Wihan: Two Sides of a Coin of Different Currency]. Bangkok: The Foundation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbooks Project.

Phuchatkan Editorial Board (ed.) 2008. Prasat phra wihan khwam cing thi khon thai tòng ru [Prasat Phra Wihan: The Truth which the Thai must know]. Bangkok 2008.

Prasit Piwantthanaphanit 2008. Khadi phao phra wihan [The Case of Khao Phra Wihan]. Bangkok.

Puangthong Pawakapan 2009. Kham phiphaksa khadi prasat phra wihan: manothat tò phünthi chaidaen khòp lae khò sia priap khòng thai [The Preah Vihear Verdict: Thai Per­ception on the Border Area and Legal Disadvantages]. Bangkok: The Foundation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbooks Project.

Somchot Ongsakul 2009. Prasat phra wihan: “siam riap” nai wethi sakon [The Phra Wihan Temple: “Siam Defeated” on the International Stage]. Bangkok: The Foundation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbooks Project.

Suwat Kikhunthot, Songrit Phonngoen and Sulak Kancanakhundi 2008. Khamae – thai mit rü sattru [Khmer-Thai: Friends or Foes?]. Bangkok: Indochina Publishing.

Suwit Thirasatsawat 2010. Büang lük kan sia dindaen lae panha prasat phra wihan cak r.s. 112 thüng patcuban [The deep background of the territorial losses and the Prasat Preah Vihear problems from AD 1893 until present-day]. Bangkok: The Historical Society under the Patronage of HRH Princes Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Thamrongsak Petchlert-anan 2009. Sayam prathet thai kap “dindaen” nai kamphucha lae lao [Siam-Thailand and “Territories” in Cambodia and Laos]. Bangkok: Toyota Thailand Foundation and The Foundation for the Promotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Textbooks Project.

Thida Saraya 2009. Prasat (khao) phra wihan [The Temple of (Khao) Phra Wihan]. Bangkok: Müang Boran.

Vichitvong na Pombejra 2009. Prasat phra wihan: mummòng mai nai bòribot khòng prawat­tisat khwam kiaokhòng rawang thai kap kamphucha [The Phra Wihan Temple: New Perspectives in the Context of Thai-Cambodian History]. Bangkok: Vasira.

B. In Western Languages

John Black 1976. The Lofty Sanctuary of Khao Phra Vihār together with The Inscriptions of Khao Prah Vihār. Bangkok: The Siam Society.

Bora Touch 2009. “Who Owns the Preah Vihear Temple? A Cambodian Position.Journal of East Asia and International Law, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 205–227.

Chambers, Paul W. and Siegfried O. Wolf 2010. “Image-Formation at a Nation’s Edge: Thai Perceptions of its Border Dispute with Cambodia – Implications for South Asia,” Working Paper No. 52, Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics.

Charnvit Kasetsiri 2003. “Thailand-Cambodia: A Love-Hate Relationship.” Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, Vol. 3, March.

Council of Ministers 2011, Kingdom of Cambodia 2008. The Temple of Preah Vihear: Proposed for the inscription on the World Heritage List (UNESCO). Phnom Penh.

Cot, Jean-Pierre 1962. “L’arrêt de la Cour internationale de Justice dans l’affaire du temple de Préah Vihéar (Cambodge c. Thailande – Fond).” Annuaire français de droit international, Vol. 8, pp. 217–247.

Cuasay, P. 1998. “Borders on the Fantastic: Mimesis, Violence, and Landscape at the Temple of Preah Vihear.” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 849–890.

Grabowsky, Volker 2009. “Fließende Grenzen: Der Streit um Preah Vihear.” Periplus. Jahrbuch für außereuropäische Geschichte. Vol. 19, pp. 111–133.

Hinton, Alexander 2006. “Khmerness and the Thai ‘Other’: Violence, Discourse and Symbo­lism in the 2003 Anti-Thai Riots in Cambodia.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 445–468.

Kitti Prasirtsuk 2009. “Thailand in 2008: Crises Continued.” Asian Survey, Vol. 49, No. 1, pp. 174–184.

Leifer, Michael 1961/62. “Cambodia and Her Neighbours.” Pacific Affairs, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 361–374.

Meyer, Sonja 2009. “Preah Vihear Reloaded – Der Grenzkonflikt zwischen Thailand und Kambodscha.” Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs. No. 1, pp. 47–68.

Ministère des Affaires Etrangères 1996. Recueil des traités Franco-Siamois délimitant la frontière de l’Indochine et du Siam (Lao-Thai) 1886–1946. Vientiane.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1961. Facts about the Relations between Thailand and Cambodia. Bangkok.

Monthicha Pakdeekong 2009. “Who Owns the Preah Vihear Temple? A Thai Position.Journal of East Asia and International Law, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 229–237.

Mißling, Sven and Maleen Watermann 2009. “Die doppelte Verantwortung der UNESCO: Zur zwiespältigen Ernennung des Tempels von Preah Vihear zum Weltkulturerbe.” Vereinte Nationen, No. 6, pp. 249–255.

Palmer, Larry 1977. “Thailand’s Kampuchea Incidents: Territorial Disputes and Armed Confrontation along the Thai-Kampuchea Frontier.” News from Kampuchea, Vol. 1, No. 4.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun 2010. Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and his Foreign Policy. Singapore/Chiang Mai: Institute of Asian Studies/Silkworm Books.

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia 1959. Bangkok: Prachandra Press.

Silverman, Helaine 2011. “Border Wars: The Ongoing Temple Dispute between Thailand and Cambodia and UNESCO’s World Heritage List,” International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 1–21.

Tej Bunnag 1977. The Provincial Administration of Siam 1892–1915: The Ministry of the Interior under Prince Damrong Rajanubhab. Kuala Lumpur (etc.): Oxford University Press.

Thongchai Winichakul 1994. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation. Honolulu: Hawaii University Press.

Vail, Peter 2007. “Thailand’s Khmer as ‘Invisible Minority’: Language, Ethnicity and Cultural Politics in North-Eastern Thailand.” Asian Ethnicity, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 111–130.

Future speakers

338th Meeting – Tuesday, September 13th 2011

Pu Sae - Ya Sae Spirit Worship: Highlighting the two sacred mountains of Chiang Mai

A talk by Reinhard Hohler

339th Meeting – Tuesday, November 15th 2011

"The 11th Panchen Lama (born in 1989): a political recognition of a Tibetan spiritual master".

A talk by Fabienne Jagou

Tuesday, March 20th 2012

"WWII in Northern Thailand: The Flying Tigers and 64th Hayabusa Sentai Clash in Chiang Mai."

A talk and presentation by Jack Eisner

 Next Meeting

338th Meeting – Tuesday, September 13th 2011

 Pu Sae -Ya Sae Spirit Worship: Highlighting the two sacred mountains of Chiang Mai

A talk by Reinhard Hohler

According to some recorded myths by the late Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda (1967), once when the Buddha was traveling in the area of present-day Chiang Mai, he met three cannibals, a couple with their son. This trio followed his trail in the hope of making a meal of him.

But when the Buddha delivered a sermon to them, the cannibals converted to his religion and abstained from taking human flesh to be allowed flesh of the buffalo instead. As for their son, he was so affected by the sermon that he pleaded to abstain forever from consuming meat of any kind, and asked to become a monk. Later he disrobed to lead the life of a hermit, spending his time in meditation in a cave a-top the mountain that later took his name: Doi Suthep. After death, the trio became roaming spirits.

To commemorate the original spirit couple, called Grandfather Pu Sae – Grandmother Ya Sae, there is a yearly black buffalo sacrifice at Ban Pa Chi at Tambon Mae Hiya on the foot of Doi Kham on the 14th day of the waxing moon in June (in 2011 on June 15). If the buffalo, which is killed with a big knife, will fall down in parallel to the Mae Hiya creek, the rain will be plentiful. If not, there will be a drought. Similar rites are known from Laos (see Archaimbault 1959).

When the Buddha decided to save the local people from the cannibals, the “rain god” Indra was so delighted and caused rain of silver and gold fall down. The places where the rain fell down have since then became known as Doi Kham or Golden Mountain and Doi Ngoen or Silver Mountain, later to be changed into Doi Suthep. Interesting to note is that Doi Kham is associated with the Grandmother Spirit Ya Sae, while Doi Suthep is associated with Pu Sae, the Grandfather Spirit, and this is until today.    

This talk will be a report and photos to illustrate the Pu Sae-Ya Sae ceremony on June 15 this year


[1]     UNESCO is the acronym for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[2]     “Aufregung in Thailand um einen Tempel”, Neue Züricher Zeitung, 11. July 2008. The decision of the UNESCO further strengthend the predominant position of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) which increased its absolute majority of 72 seats (in 2003) to a three-quarter majority of 90 seats (of a total of 120 seats) in the Cambodian parliamentary elections of 27 July 2009. See “Der Wahlsieg der Partei Huns Sens in Kambodscha bestätigt”, Neue Züricher Zeitung, 11 August 2008.

[3]     The topography of Preah Vihear has been most accurately summarised by the British judge Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice in his “separate opinion” pertaining to the judgement of the International Court of Justice in The Hague (15 June 1962): “[I]t is difficult to draw any certain deduction from the siting of the Temple. It overlooks the Cambodian plain: but it faces in the direction of Thailand. Its main access is from the latter direction; but there is also access from the Cambodian side–and this access, because steep and hard, must–precisely for that reason–have been contrived deliberately and of set purpose, contra naturam.” Cf. International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand), Judgment of 15 June 1962, p. 54.

[4]     Claude Jacques, Angkor. Cologne 1999, p. 95.

[5]     Luang Rüangdet Anan, Ratchaphongsawadan krung kamphucha [The Royal Chronicles of Cambodia], 2nd edition. Bangkok 2007 (1917), p. 59.

[6]     The Siamese High Commissioner (kha luang thesaphiban) who „discovered“ the temple was Phracao Bòrommawongthoe Krom Luang Sanphasitthiprasong, one of the half-brothers of King Chulalongkorn. See Anucha Paephanwan, Exclusive kan müang rüang khao phra wihan [Exklusive: The Politics of the Khao Phra Wihan Conflict]. Bangkok 2008, p. 28.

[7]     See Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation. Honolulu 1994.

[8]     Officials of the Ministry of Interior, which had been reorganised in 1892 by Prince Damrong Rachanphap, supervised the implementation of reforms in the newly established admnistrative circles called monthon, a term directly derving from the Sanskrit term maṇḍala. The monthon replaced the müang, i.e., the traditional polities of the Thai, as the highest administrative unit behind the national level. As to details, see Tej Bunnag, The Provincial Administration of Siam 1892–1915: The Ministry of the Interior under Prince Damrong Rajanubhab. Kuala Lumpur (etc.) 1977.

[9]     „Convention entre la France et le Siam modifiant les stipulations du Traité du 3 Octobre 1893 concernant des territoires et des autres arrangements, signé à Paris, le 13 février 1904”, in: Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, Recueil des traités Franco-Siamois délimitant la frontière de l’Indochine et du Siam (Lao-Thai) 1886–1946. Vientiane 1996, pp. 274–78. See also International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear, p. 16.

[10]    See Anucha, Exclusive kan müang, pp. 51–55. In this context it should be noticed that before 1884 Siam did not possess proper own maps for navy and military purposes. They were too inaccurate for more sophisticated military purposes. Only from 1884 to 1893 a cartographic survey of northern and northeastern Thailand was undertaken by the British geographer James McCarthy who was working for the government in Bangkok.

[11]    International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear, pp. 94f.

[12]    Charnvit Kasetsiri, Prasat khao phra wihan [Preah Vihear Temple]. Bangkok 2008, pp. 14–24.

[13]    Princess Phun Phitsamai Diskul is quoted by the Taiwanese judge Wellington Koo in his “separate opinion” as follows: “It was generally known at the time that we only give the French an excuse to seize more territory by protesting. Things had been like that since they came into the river Chao Phya with their gunboats and their seizure of Chanthaburi.” Quoted from International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear, pp. 91. See also ibid., pp. 122ff.

[14]    Anucha 2008, p. 84. See also International Court of Justice 1962, p. 86 (“dissenting opinion” of Taiwanese (National Chinese) judge Wellington Koo).

[15]    These facts were confirmed by Dutch experts like Professor Willem Schermerhorn and analysed in detail by the Australian judge Sir Percy Spender in his unusually long and haunting “dissenting opinion”. See International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear, pp. 122ff.

[16]    Duangthida, Prasat phra wihan khwam khatyaeng talòt khòng sòng prathet? Bangkok 2008, pp. 118f.

[17]    Charnvit, Prasat khao phra wihan, pp. 25–33.

[18]    Anucha, Exclusive kan müang, p. 57.

[19]    International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear, p. 86 (“dissenting opinion” of Judge Wellington Koo).

[20]    Relations between Thailand and Cambodia 1959, p. 4. At the height of the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia Dap Chuen was accused of being part of a Thai-US plot to assassinate Prince Sihanouk in a scheme to annex Cambodia. The “pro-Thai” governor was arrested and later executed. See Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1961, p. 6. Cf. Palmer 1977.

[21]    See Michael Leifer, “Cambodia and Her Neigbours”, in: Pacific Affairs, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 361–374.

[22]    The competent jurisdiction of the ICJ to mediate in the conflict between Cambodia and Thailand resulted from the fact that on 20 May 1950 the Thai government had explicitely recognised the International Court of Justice in Geneva. Even though this Court had already ceased to exist sine 1946, the posterior Thai recognition had to be transferred to the Geneva Court’s successor, namely the International Court of Justice in The Hague, established in 1945 by the UN Charta. This interpretation is confirmed by the Thai expert of international law, Professor Bowornsak Uvanno, Chae ekkasan ‘lap thi sut’ prasat phra wihan ph.s. 2505–2551 [Disclosing “top secret” documents on Prasat Phra Wihan, AD 1962–2008]. Bangkok 2008. p. 29.

[23]    International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear, pp. 24ff.

[24]    Ibid., p. 118.

[25]    Bowornsak, Chae ekkasan ‘lap thi sut’, p. 211. For an informative presentation of the official standpoint of the Thai governments since 1962, see also Prasit Piwantthanaphanit, Khadi phao phra wihan [The Khao Phra Wihan Case]. Bangkok 2008.

[26]    Bora Touch (2009, p. 222) stresses that this Thai map “only appeared as an annex to the 1962 Note when it was later published in the Foreign Affair Bulletin. This document was not published in UN official documents, nor does it exist in the UN databases.”

[27]    Quoted from Phucatkan Editorial Board (ed.) 2008, p. 136.

[28]    See Bora Touch 2009, p. 221.

[29]    Chambers and Wolf 2010, p. 17.

[30]    Anucha, Exclusive kan müang, pp. 93ff.

[31]    Quoted from Bora Touch 2009, p. 226f.

[32]    See ibid., p. 226.

[33]    Phuchatkan Editorial Board (Hrsg.), Prasat phra wihan, p. 51.

[34]    Charnvit, Prasat khao phra wihan, p. 13.

[35]    Thus the British judge Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice remarks: „As to the Khmer origins of the Temple – this factor (put forward by Cambodia) operates in an equally neutral way, since it seems to be admitted that there are and were, in these regions, populations of Khmer race on both sides of the frontier.“ See International Court of Justice, Case Concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear, p. 54. Taking a similar line of argumentation, one would also have to reject a (hyothetical) claim to sole representation of all archaelogical sites of ancient Greece in Anatolia by the present-day Greek nation-state or a likewise absurd claim by Italy with regard to ancient Roman sites in Spain, France or Germany.

[36]   Charnvit 2009, p. 76. Though the more cautious and less vigorous position of Damong and the royalist elite towards the French, especially when compared to the more belligerent attitude of the anti-royalist nationalists of the post-1932 regime, shall not be disputed, it nevertheless seems that Charnvit overinterprets his sources. For me it is difficult to comprehend how Charnvit can interpret an acceptance of territorial losses out of the following statement made in the above mentioned commemoration volume: “In a deal with France in this treaty, Siam agreed to cede Battambang, which originally belonged to Cambodia and had been under Siamese ruler since 1809, to France” (ibid., p. 77).

[37]    See the feature on Preah Vihear in “Bangkok Post”, 22 May 2008.

[38]    For this petition Sisak was heavily criticised by Charnvit Kasetsiri as being allied to the pro-PAD nationalist movement of formerly progressive intellectuals. See Charnvit 2009, p. 159.

[39]    ICJ proceedings, Monday 30 May 2011, uncorrected translation.

[40]    Phiphop Udon, Kòrani prasat phra wihan rawang thai-kampucha: rian khon la dan khòng ngoen khon la sakun [The Dispute between Thailand and Cambodia on Prasat Phra Wihan: Two Sides of a Coin of Different Currency]. Bangkok 2008, p. 19.

[41]    Suwit 2010, p. 370.

[42]    UNESCO convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, World Heritage Committee, Quebec City, Canada, 2-10 July 2008.

Addenda 1 by Louis Gabaude: Other sources available at the EFEO library, opposite the Alliance Française:

A. In Thai

Banchop Thianthat 2532 [1989]. Pai Nakhon Wat lat Nakhon Tham chom Prasat Khao Phra Wihan. Bangkok, Krung Sayam Printing Group, 34 p. Call THAI. T. ARTS 0092.

Samnak Phim Phutthasansamphan 2503 [1960]. Banthuek hetkan korani phiphat Thai-Khamen lae prawattisat Kha Phra Wihan chabap sombun. Bangkok, Saengthai Kanphim, [28]+670 p. Call THAI. T. HIST. 0478.

Seni Pramoj 2505 [1962]. Khadi Phra Wihan. Bangkok, Rongphim Samnak Thabian Nayok Rattamontri, [6]+216 p. Call: THAI. T. HIST. 0822.

Sorachet Worakhamwichai; Sommat Phonkoet 2535 [1992]. Prasat Khao Phra Wihan. Buriram, Rewat Kanphim, 111 p. Call THAI. T. ARCH. 0085.

Suriyawut Suksawat 2536 [1993]. Prasat Khao Phra Wihan: Satsanabanphot thi dotden thi sut nai phrak phuen Esia, Bangkok, Muang Boran, 719 p. Call: THAI. T. ARCH. 0130.

 [Thailand] Krasuang Kantangprathet (transl) 2505 [1962]. Kham Phiphaksa San Yutthitham rawang prathet Khadi Prasat Phra Wihan. Bangkok, Samnak Thabian Nayok Rattamontri, [10]+237 p. Call THAI. T. HIST. 0024.

Thida Saraya 2535 [1992]. Khao Phra Wihan. Bangkok, Muang Boran, 106 p. Call THAI. T. ARCH. 0019.

B. In Western Languages

Arun Panupong 1953. Le territoire Indochino-Thaïlandais. Paris: Faculté de Droit de l’Université de Paris, 256 p. Thèse de Doctorat d’Université soutenue le 8 juin 1953. Call: THAIL. E. HIST. A365K.

France; Thailande 1941. Convention de paix entre la France et la Thaïlande [09/05/1941], 24+2+[11] p. Call: THAIL. E. HIST. F815C.

Graillon-Wieland, Magali 1999. Les relations franco-siamoises. L’action et la position du Siam à propos des provinces occidentales du Cambodge, 1863-1946, Vol. I (p. 1-294); Vol. II (p. 295-414). Thèse présentée pour l’obtetnion du Doctorat ès Lettres et Sciences humaines, Montpellier, Université Montpellier III – Paul Valéry. Call: THAIL. E. HIST. G743R-1 & 2.

Pensri Duke 1962. Les relations entre la France et la Thaïlande (Siam) au XIXe siècle d’après les archives des Affaires étrangères. Bangkok, ix+328+vi p. Call: THAIL. E. HIST. P418R.

Robequain, Charles 194?. Les territoires cédés à la Thaïlande par les récents traités. Leur valeur humaine et économique. Paris: École nationale de la France d’Outre-Mer, 74 p. Call: THAIL. E. HIST. R638T.

Vichitr Vadakarn, Luang 1941. Thailand’s Case. [Bangkok], 4+37 p. Call: THAIL. E. HIST. V634T.

Addenda 2 by L.G.: Other sources in Thai available at Louis Gabaude’s house:

Panthep Phuaphongphan 2554 [2011]. Khamtuean sutthai: Ratcha-anachak thai kamlang cha sia dindaeng (Chabap sombun). Bangkok, Samnakphim Ban Phra Athit, 334 p.

Rom Bunnak 2552 [2009]. Songkhram lae khwamkhaen Thai-Frangset. Bangkok, Sayambanthek, 160 p.

Saisakun Dechabut 2552 [2009]. Sia dindaen hai chakkrawatniyom samai la ananikhom. Bangkok, Rakkaeo, 274+ [12] p.

Santi Phakdikham 2552 [2009]. “Prasat Khao Phra Wihar: chak ‘Sisikharisuan’ thueng ‘Pheah Vihear’ in Santi Phakdikham, Khamen “thok Sayam”, Bangkok, Sinlapawatthanatham, p. 174-186.

Thamnong Pracharak 2553 ’2010]. Nam yok ok Thai-Frangset: Khadi phiphat Prasat Phra Wihan tang tae adit thueng yuk moradok lok. Bangkok, Samnakphim Ro. So. 229, 175 p.
Addenda 3 by L.G.: Maps

Map Nr. 1: Map used by the International Court of Justice in 1962 (Source: Panthep Phuaphongphan 2554 [2011]. Khamtuean sutthai: Ratcha-anachak thai kamlang cha sia dindaeng (Chabap sombun). Bangkok, Samnakphim Ban Phra Athit, p. 98 & 99.)


Map Nr. 2: Disputed area by Thailand. Source: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.cambodia.org/Preah_Vihear/images/thai_document_map_preah_vih.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.cambodia.org/Preah_Vihear/%3Fhistory%3DA%2BKhmer%2BHeritage&h=532&w=450&sz=52&tbnid=ZdGcC1sAAc2iFM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=76&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dpreah%2Bvihear%2Bmap%26tbm%3Disch%26tbo%3Du&zoom=1&q=preah+vihear+map&docid=joVh1S2vh2tElM&sa=X&ei=abtgTsSLNMKqrAeH3eEP&ved=0CDwQ9QEwBQ&dur=319