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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - International law must prevail

International law must prevail

H E Svay Sitha

Emerging from the chaotic political situation that has disrupted Thai community life since the 2006 coup, strong chauvinistic statements have been desperately disseminated with the purpose of recreating the unity of a deeply divided society.

Once again, nationalism is the tool used by Thai government authorities, senior officials and political leaders who face internal social division, disorders and protests that are self-inflicted by their own miscalculated policies.

Typical of the ultranationalist Thai political leaders, whether they are in the government or not, they saved their days, swept their mistakes under the rug and glorified their obvious failures by shifting Thai people’s attention in the direction of Cambodia. The target of their uninterrupted attacks against Cambodia is the inscription of the Temple of Preah Vihear on the UNESCO World Heritage List. More and more, it is said and written intentionally but falsely by Thais that the temple and its vicinity belong to Thailand. Even more, in trying to justify armed violations of Cambodian territories in various places, Thai political leaders have ostensibly created out of their Machiavellian schemes what they call the “disputed” frontier line. In fact, there is an indisputable internationally recognised frontier line between Cambodia and Thailand.

Through the release of false information, there is an attempt from the Thai side to create, about this common border line, confusion in the mind of international policy makers and, in particular, decision makers within the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. Despite continuous delusive allegations and regular irredentist claims by Thai officials, the facts are established and indisputable.

On February 13, 1904, a convention between France, protectorate power of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and the Kingdom of Siam was signed.
Provisions of the convention explained how to determine the exact delineation of the territorial boundaries. On March 23, 1907, a new treaty between the two countries and a protocol annexed to the treaty concerning the delimitation of boundaries, confirmed and specified the previous one. Both international instruments stipulated that the line establishing the separation between the two territorial sovereignties was to be
determined by a Franco-Siamese Mixed Border Delimitation Commission.

A “procès verbal d’abornement” (minutes of delimitation) of 1908-1909 produced the results of the work of this commission, with maps for every segment of the border. The document with the maps was adopted by both governments as the settlement of the 1907 treaty. A revision in 1919-1920 establishing the 73 boundary pillars enjoyed the same support. According to the map related to the Dangrek segment, the temple of Preah Vihear and its vicinity are beyond any doubt inside Cambodian territory.

During the following decades, by its conduct, Siam recognised the line on the map as the frontier line. In 1925, a Friendship Treaty between France and Siam stipulated in its Article 2 that the two countries confirmed the established border. The following year, a Franco-Siamese Convention confirmed this Article 2. On January 30, 1929, Prince Damrong Rajanupab, son of the King of Siam and officially recognised in 2001 as the “father of Thai history”, visited the temple and declared that “Preah Vihear belongs to French Indochina”.

In 1937, a new friendship treaty repeated exactly the 1925 provisions about the border. During World War II, the Kingdom of Siam took advantage of its alliance with the Empire of Japan to annex Cambodian provinces. But in 1946, an agreement between France and Thailand reestablished the 1937 treaty. It was written by a Conciliatory Commission that there was no need to change the provisions of the 1907 treaty about the border.

After the independence of Cambodia, Thai military forces occupied the Temple of Preah Vihear and its vicinity. The case was brought to the International Court of Justice. On June 15, 1962, the court, in its judgment, determined that “Thailand in 1908-1909 did accept the map as representing the outcome of the work of delimitation and hence recognised the line on that map as being the frontier line, the effect of which is to situate Preah Vihear in Cambodian territory”. The court “feels bound, as a matter of treaty interpretation, to pronounce in favour of the line as mapped in the disputed area”. For these reasons, the court found that “the temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia”. The following July, Thailand expressed acceptation of the ICJ ruling and failed to apply for revision during the following 10 years it was legally possible to do so.

In 1967, Mr Thanat Khonan, Thai minister for foreign affairs, declared that “Thailand has no territorial claims in Cambodia. The position of Thailand has always been to say that there is no dispute on the boundaries with Cambodia, as it has consistently complied with the treaty signed with France at the time it was the protective power of Cambodia”.

On June 14, 2000, Cambodia and Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding for the survey and demarcation of the border line between the two countries. Article 1 of this MoU stipulates that the survey and demarcation of land boundary between the two countries shall be jointly conducted in accordance with the 1904 convention, the 1907 treaty and its annexed protocol and the “maps which are the results of demarcation works of the Commissions of Delimitation of the Boundary between Indo-China and Siam set up under the Convention of 1904 and the Treaty of 1907 between France and Siam, and other documents relating to the application of the Convention of 1904 and the Treaty of 1907 between France and Siam”.

On May 23, 2003, Cambodia and Thailand signed a document titled “Terms of Reference and Master Plan for the Joint Survey and Demarcation of Land Boundary between the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Kingdom of Thailand. This document made reference to the 1904 Convention, the 1907 Treaty, the maps and the MoU of June 2000.

A Joint Boundary Commission created by the 2000 MoU started to work. There were meetings in November 2008 and February and April 2009. The minutes of the three meetings were approved in principle by the Thai cabinet in April 2010, but are still pending the Thai parliament’s approval to enable the JBC to continue its work.

These are the facts. And they are indisputable. But since the 2006 military coup in Thailand, the political situation moved from crisis to crisis, and nationalism was used as a tool between the main factions to the detriment of Cambodia.

As a state party to the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Cambodia made in October 2001 the proposal to inscribe the site of the temple of Preah Vihear on the World Heritage List. On January 2007, the International Council on Monuments and Sites recommended that the temple be included in the list.

As the 31st session of the World Heritage Committee was approaching in July 2007, with the inscription of the temple on its agenda, Thailand published a map showing a unilateral boundary line that changed totally the accepted international frontier line since 1908-1909. This map shows a boundary running alongside the temple and putting all the vicinity at the west of the temple in Thai territory. Nevertheless, the World Heritage Committee recognised that “the Sacred Site of the Temple of Preah Vihear is of great international significance and has Outstanding Universal Value”, and agreed in principle that it should be inscribed on the World Heritage list. Cambodia was requested to reinforce the conservation of the site and to develop a management plan.

On July 7, 2008, at its 32nd session, the World Heritage Committee unanimously inscribed the temple of Preah Vihear on the World Heritage List under WHC decision 32 COM 8B. 102.

True to her duty to respect international law and her obligations as a state party, Cambodia has implemented and continues to implement the requirements set forth in the Quebec WHC decision, and as a matter of fact, Cambodia submitted the final management plan before February 1, 2010, to the World Heritage Center as required under the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, to be submitted further to the 34th session of the WHC, in Brasília, Brazil, for consideration and decision.

Now, the 34th session of the WHC is under way. Cambodia will defend her rights to the fullest of her abilities. The Thai ultranationalists will fail again in their attempts to dictate their ill-will on the international forum of such importance as the World Heritage Committee and UNESCO.

Svay Sitha is secretary of state at the Council of Ministers and chairman of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit. Opinions expressed are his own.



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