Friday, October 17, 2008

Why was Cambodia itching for war with Thailand?

A possible resolution to the border standoff between Thailand and Cambodia was negotiated Thursday. The idea is to have "joint border patrols." Cambodia's PM now says there won't be a "full scale war" with Thailand. One explanation for the apparent about-face could be that the Cambodian military proved itself too disorganized and its weapons ineffective, suggests an AFP report. Thailand had "tanks and heavy weaponry to the area and put fighter jets on stand-by." The report also says that Cambodia now rejects mediators -- a U turn.

Everyone is wondering, however, why Cambodia's prime minister began beating the war drums in the first place, making noises about going to war with Thailand. Why now?

First, it needs to be said that a number of Thais -- in particular, some of those Thais most vehemently opposed to their government -- subscribe to certain "conspiracy theories." A leader of the anti-government PAD group is saying that former Thai PM Thaksin wanted Hun Sen to attack Thailand. The theory goes something like this:
Some analysts read too much into it . . . The machiavellian scenario they suggested was that the Cambodian strongman wanted to help his associate Thaksin - and Thaksin's brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, the present Thai prime minister - to overcome Thailand's domestic political difficulties.
Other versions of the "Thaksin-Cambodian"conspiracy theory claim the former PM wants to further his business interests in Cambodia, and somehow the conflict furthers these interests.

So what are the facts? Bangkok Pundit, as usual, has done a great job of parsing these out. Drawing partly on BP's most recent post, here are some of the main facts and issues:

  • Thailand's government is weak, many Thais believe a military coup could easily happen.
  • Hun Sen cannot wait that long, because his government is required to submit an administrative plan for Preah Vihear temple to the World Heritage Committee by next February.
  • Access to the disputed temple seems to require a road through territory claimed by Thailand.
  • Now that Hun Sen has won an election, he must govern. He may feel it expedient to stir up opposition within Cambodia to an "enemy" state in order to unite the nation behind him.
I will keep you informed if I come across more facts to explain why this ridiculous -- but deadly -- border conflict happened to have broken out again last week. I'm not talking about the history of the dispute, but an explanation as to the strategy behind Cambodia's recent moves. News reports I have seen still do not explain the Cambodian government's motivations adequately.
Map from Prachatai shows location of Preah Vihear temple in relation to Khmer Empire -- around eight hundred years ago. As you can see, the Khmer Empire stretches to the Pagan Empire of Burma. At that time, the Thai lived under the rule of the Khmers. The Prachatai article discusses the history of the conflict.


  1. All I can say is that Thais and its society are real sick, sick beyond redemption. Shame on the Thais and Thailand for all the infightings amongst themselves as well as picking up a fight with its neighbour now.

  2. Bee CC,

    Concerning the most recent flare-up, in fairness to the Thais -- and irrespective of who fired the first shot -- it appears to have been the Cambodian PM who suddenly raised the stakes with his war ultimatum.

  3. Hi..
    It is hard to say which side is the first to fire. But due to recent warning of Cambodian Prime minister Hun Sen, I could say Cambodians were the first rather then Thai soldiers. But Thailand was also at fault. For diplomacy, you can not only think about go forward like a stone-head, without an idea that sometimes you need to take a step back.

    Anyway all are about national pride for both countries, or i could say "stupid pride".

    For information to Jotman or anybody who had never been to Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodia do have a road to the temple but a bit quite a climb! It is ridiculous if someone think Cambodia claim the land just for an accessible road, because the landscape of the area block both countries by mountain range. So to have an easy-accessible road you need to take much more of Thailand's territory surrounding the mountain range not just the so-called disputed area.


  4. For information to Jotman or anybody who had never been to Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodia do have a road to the temple but a bit quite a climb!

    The road does seem to figure into the conflict. I wonder if it has to do with some kind of UNESCO stipulation about road access...

  5. Hmm...
    I think you should read the cambodian application of listing the temple as world heritage.

    Everthing have been confirm that PREAH VIHEAR TEMPLE AS WORLD HERITAGE is only the temple, and Cambodia will talk to Thailand about the surrounding area in the future, the map do not even include the disputed area.

    I think Cambodia'stand on Preah Vihear Temple is only about development and prosperity, sure the former Thai government led by Samak also thought the same way. Thailand will be the one who earn more profit even though the world heritage Preah Vihear temple is belong to Cambodia, it is the fact that every smart people know.

    But when there are politics involved, everything just started to go the wrong way and become worst and worst. That's all thanks to some politician in Bangkok who thought nothing but only to make sure their political opponent destroyed.

    As long as there are political problem in Thailand, the military stand-off will be prolonged.


  6. Siems enough is enough. When Khmer fed up with your bully, we don't care how big your muscles. We still remember Dangrek Mtn. that you dumped the Khmer refugees down the slope to land mines. Khmer has been in Hell. So don't push it. Siems should call themselve Obama Bin Laddin Fellowers not Buddhism.


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