Dieses Blog durchsuchen

Sonntag, 29. Mai 2011

Part 17 - Preah Vihear No Man's Land

A lintel ready to be sold in the black market...

The Demise of the Khmer Empire

After the death of the Khmer King Jayavarnam VII around 1220 AD the glory of the empire subtly diminished.

The Siamese conquered Ankor Wat in 1351 for the first time thus having control over Preah Vihear as well. For the last time the Khmers were able to recapture Ankor Wat again, but only to lose it to the Siamese in the year 1431 for centuries to come. During a rebellion in the 17th century the Khmers managed to win a battle, but not the independence from Siam. As a reminder the Khmers named a village close to Ankor Wat “Siem Reap”, meaning: “the defeat of Siam”. The Khmer success of this battle was short lived, but Siem Reap, the gateway to Ankor Wat, with its international airport nowadays became a well known travel destination and its name remains a thorn in the side of Thailand.        

The year 1431 AD can be considered the end of the Khmer empire, an empire so powerful and large that was never seen before in this geography. From now on the area that is now called Cambodia became a playing field of foreign forces like Siam, Vietnam and France. The Siamese Royals considered themselves as the rightful successors of the Khmers royal house and took over rituals, customs and culture of the Khmer Kings.  

And then came the European colonists, the French and the British. They carried instruments in their luggage never seen before by the locals, instruments that enabled the colonists to define exact borders at the edges of their claims. These borders were then sketched on paper for everyone to be seen. However, the locals never have been able to make sense out of these strange drawings called maps. And so it came that the Siamese signed a treaty with the French in the year 1907 accepting the borders between then Indochina and Siam. Siam had to give up Ankor Wat and other areas of Cambodia. The map defining the border between Cambodia and Siam was attached to the agreement. This border is still valid today.

The only thing the Siamese understood in this context was the term “watershed”. The treaty expressed in words that whenever possible natural geographical features like escarpments, mountains and rivers establish the borders between Siam and Indochina. The Dangrek mountain range is such a natural feature. It represents a watershed.

For ominous reasons the French made an exception in the case of Preah Vihear. Instead of using the edge of the Dangrek escarpment as the border, they deviated from this rule as expressed in the treaty and draw the border generously around Preah Vihear so that it remained on Cambodian soil. Siam ordered copies of this map from the French and distributed them to the province governors and other government institutions.

The border conflict seemed to be settled once and for all, but…

…it took the Siamese and then called the Thais almost 30 years to recognize their mistake. Meanwhile smart enough to handle instruments for land surveys they set up their own border commission in 1934 to verify the borderline between Thailand and Cambodia. For the first time they stumbled over the Preah Vihear issue, but did not protest. They just considered the French map of 1907 a sloppy drawing. In the minds of the Thais Preah Vihear was without any doubt on Thai soil.

In the year 1953 Cambodia celebrated the independence day from France. Proud of their ancient past they chose Preah Vihear besides Ankor Wat as one of the locations for the festivities. Thailand felt provoked and stationed their troops on Preah Vihear temple grounds in 1954. Relationships between both countries deteriorated and resulted in a breakup of diplomatic relations in 1958.                

In 1959 Cambodia called the international court of justice for help. In 1962 this court ruled that the temple grounds belong to Cambodia, but left precise border definitions open.

Since then it is a never-ending story. Every time one of both countries faces internal problems or takes one-sided initiative in respect to Preah Vihear the politicians and/or the military try to draw the attention to the border issue away from the real domestic problems. Then shootouts at short distance from each other determine the headlines of the media and lots of nationalistic phrases are muttered.       

Preah Vihear could be a lively place where peoples of many countries meet, full of joy and respect for ancient cultures. Thailand and Cambodia could manage the tourist business jointly, initiate renovation of ruined buildings and let Preah Vihear rise up to new glory. It could be a win-win situation for both countries, but as long as they are deeply involved in their own internal problems chances are low to come to an agreement.

The fight for 4.6 square kilometres will go on for a while. This map shows the borders as drawn by the French in 1907 and signed by both parties (old). So far the Khmers can reach the temple grounds on food walking on their own turf. If the border would be changed to “new” the Khmers were forced to cross the border to Thailand  before entering Preah Vihear unless they come by helicopter or build a cable car going up to the edge of the Dangrek escarpment 500 metres above. 

 Source: Bangkokpost.

But the day will come. The Thais and Khmers who will stroll around Preah Vihear in peace and friendship are already born. Hope is the last thing to die.

And this is how it will all end. Once Lord Shiva starts to dance and thus annihilating the universe to make room for its re-birth the next morning, it will be too late.

Lord Shiva destroying the universe

Final remark: it’s by intention that the author does not position himself clearly on one side or the other. It’s his humble opinion that participation in further polarization will not contribute to a solution of this conflict. The frontiers of opinions are established since 50 years anyway and more than enough suffering was imposed on the people living in the vicinity of this border post. Not to mention the continuous destruction of what is left of the Preah Vihear buildings. The only way out is compromise and understanding. Whoever reaches out his hand unselfishly first will be the modern hero of Preah Vihear.  

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.   

Keine Kommentare:

Kommentar veröffentlichen