The human cost of the Preah Vihear conflict

When a site is awarded World Heritage status, it usually means a jump in tourism visits and revenue. Not so with Preah Vihear, where the conflict over the surrounding area between Thailand and Cambodia have caused much economic hardship to the residents of the area.

Strained relations over ancient ruins wrecking lives
Bangkok Post, 14 October 2010

The Thai-Cambodia border dispute over the Preah Vihear temple is over a century long and for many of the locals, conflict is all they have ever known.

Resting atop a cliff over 1,500 feet above sea level, the ancient place of worship presents a stunning view of extraordinary ruins and endless jungle.

However, its natural beauty and spiritual resonance has been stripped in the ensuing violence undertaken in the name of sovereignty.

Its engimatic beauty is irrelevant. Preah Vihear is a war zone.

Preah Vihear was awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962, but the clash didn’t stop there. When the temple was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008, the tension between Thailand and its neighbour came to a head – and is arguably now worse than ever.

For many Thais, the Preah Vihear issue is one of security and nationalism. In a recent poll by the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), nearly 70% of Thai citizens agreed that the government should push Cambodians out of the overlapping area.

But for locals living in the 13 villages across the Thai-Cambodia border, the temple is much more than a symbol of patriotism – it is a constant reminder of economic hardship.


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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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