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Samstag, 21. Mai 2011

Part 14 - Preah Vihear No Man's Land

The Ancient Prophecy and the June 1979 Incident

“One day the Khmer people will be forced to choose between being eaten by tigers or swallowed by crocodiles”, so the prophecy goes.

This prophecy became true several times in the history of this unfortunate country. The obvious tragedies happened in the 20th century.

The tigers came during the Vietnam war when the North-Vietnamese used Cambodian territory to transport supplies and weapons into South-Vietnam and the crocodiles came as Americans heavily bombarding large parts of Cambodia during the so called “secret war”, fought in Laos as well. The civilians suffered most.

The tigers came again after the Vietnam war, but not as outsiders. The Khmer Rouge suffocated the country between 1975 and 1979. The expression “The killing fields” is part of the worldwide conscious since then. It’s a miracle, that Cambodia recovered at all after their devilish reign. The crocodiles then again followed the tigers. The Vietnamese occupied Cambodia in 1979 and drove the Khmer Rouge to the Thai border. Before and at the same time hundred of thousands of common Khmer people crossed the border into Thailand seeking refuge.

But whoever thinks that the prophecy was concluded by then errs again. The Thai government used the invasion of Cambodia by the Vietnamese as an excuse to repatriate these refugees into Cambodia. And this was when the 2nd avenue at Preah Vihear became a death road and the scene of a tragedy. The Thai military gathered thousands of Khmers there by force at gun point and drove them down the steep and mine infested forest paths into Cambodia. Explosions rocked the environment whenever a Khmer refuge stumbled over a landmine. The ones who tried to return were shot. Again, the prophecy came true. The Khmers could only choose between the tigers, the Thai army and the crocodiles, the land mines. Many people died. Unimaginable the suffering of the refugees at that time at this very spot along the 2nd avenue of Preah Vihear.

The grounds of Preah Vihear remained the last resort of the Khmer Rouge until 1998.               

Bunkers and ordnances are witnesses of the times when Preah Vihear was used by the Khmer Rouge as a last heaven. Here, on top of the Dangrek escarpment, they could hold their position for almost 20 years more after the take over of Cambodia by the Vietnamese und successive local Khmer governments.

Easy to imagine the sporadic gunfire between Khmer Rouge and Thai soldiers at some weekends when alcohol was available and the stress caused by the usual boredom at this outpost could be turned into “fun”. This is not different today. There are many small clashes continuously that never find their way into the media. The bullet marks at the walls of Preah Vihear buildings are older than the recent clashes between 2008 and now and were clearly visible during our visit in December 2006.   

Left overs of the Khmer Rouge

The palace at the end of the 2nd avenue can be best viewed from the South side. It is the most impressive building of the Preah Vihear complex. The rooms inside have many stories to tell. To listen to them a local guide is recommended. Some of the Khmer students speaking quite a good English earn their pocket money this way.

The next blog is going to describe the oldest part of Preah Vihear, the sanctuary inside the „gallery“.

Cautionary Remark: Whoever intends to visit Preah Vihear / Khao Pra Wihan should ask for advice beforehand. As of now, May 2011, the place is closed for visitors. Thai and Cambodian troops face each other in close proximity. Renewed battles could emerge at any time.   

stay tuned... 

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