The politics behind Preah Vihear

I like Al Jazeera. As a news network, I’ve found the overage to be pretty good, especially when compared to the other western, more established networks (*cough* CNN). In this feature piece, the politics behind the conflict at Preah Vihear is discussed, with particular focus on the Thai side of the border.

Preah Vihear, wikicommons image

Who does the Preah Vihear temple belong to?
Al Jazeera, 04 June 2011

Deputy leader of the Democrat Party Kraisak Choonhavan is alarmed by the impact of ultra-nationalism on his own government. “The PAD has been critical of the Thai government for the past two years. Now they have become jingoistic, which is very dangerous,” he said.

Recent fighting between Thai troops and the Cambodian army in the disputed border area adjoining the temple inflicted minor damage and defaced part of the stone walls in early February 2011. Even the UNESCO flag of protection for ancient monuments suffered bullet holes.

Responding to rolling street protests by his former PAD allies in the capital Bangkok earlier this year, the Thai prime minister assured the public that the border clash “shows that we never fail to protect our sovereignty” and even called upon UNESCO to revoke the World Heritage listing of the Preah Vihear temple.

Dr Paul Chambers, a Thai politics specialist at Payap University in Chiangmai, told Al Jazeera, “the Yellow Shirts and the Thai Patriots’ Network have succeeded in building up an ever-growing Thai nationalist frenzy in Bangkok”.

With the ruling Democrat Party led by prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva still playing the “Cambodia card”, there appears to be zero chance of resolving the border dispute before the election.

Thai academic Dr Pavin Chachavalpongpun, based at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, told Al Jazeera that “the current conflict is not really about Thai-Cambodian conflict, it is more about Thailand’s own conflict”.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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