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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A latte and the news, please

A latte and the news, please

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081126_02.jpg

Coffee shops are abuzz with talk about the border conflict, as

observers say the Kingdom's standoff with Thailand has sparked a wider

interest in the headlines

Photo by:
Tracey Shelton

Regulars at one of Phnom Penh's many coffee establishments discuss the conflict surrounding Preah Vihear temple.

DESPITE a relative peace falling over the front lines around Preah Vihear temple in recent weeks, the border conflict between Cambodia and Thailand continues to be played out verbally, in coffee shops and street corners throughout Phnom Penh, sparking a sustained rise in people's interest in the news, observers say.

Regardless of age gaps, diverse locations and differing levels of education, people are heading to the public spaces, crowding around TVs and radios, and engaging in news gathering and opinion exchange.

"Mostly, my customers talk in the morning while they are having their breakfast, meeting friends, reading the newspapers and listening to the radio at the same time," said Pich Vantha, who owns a popular coffee shop in central Phnom Penh. He says that since Preah Vihear temple was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in early July, talk of border tensions in his shop has been ceaseless.

"Discussion about the temple is definitely the most popular topic in the shop. I think it is good that such topics are being discussed as some customers do not know what is happening and can come and get new information. It seems that my coffee shop is a news-collecting place."

Ros Kanitha, an 18-year-old university student, frequents Pich Vantha's cafe with her friends and said that talk of Preah Vihear usually comes down to politics.

"What we talk about most is exactly how the government will solve the border problem because it is very complex," she said.

What we talk about most is exactly how the government will solve [the problem].

"Thailand is a difficult country to communicate with, and it will be interesting to see what decisions the Cambodian government makes and what methods they use in solving this problem and avoiding war."

Touch Sok Lang, Ros Kanitha's friend, said she has observed an improvement in the situation in recent times.

"I think the situation has improved now that the prime minister's son has raised funds to support the soldiers stationed at the temple," she said.

Their friend, Than Rina, 19, expressed her pride in her government, saying it's shown restraint in the conflict.

"I really support what the government has done. First, it keeps the peace and avoids death and, second, it avoids damage to our cultural heritage," she said. But she also said that she believed people only have a certain amount of patience.

"Our patience is limited. It will not last much longer because our patience with Thailand's aggressiveness is becoming exhausted, and strong action will eventually be needed."

At another coffee shop in a different part of town, two men also discussed the political conflict, but saw the problem more linked to economics than politics.   

"I think Thai people know that the temple belongs to Cambodians, but they continue the conflict to save face internationally because they will look bad if they withdraw," Sos Sovanny said. "I also think Thailand is trying to prolong the conflict to disrupt Cambodia's growing economy, as many other countries are interested in our natural resources."

Hungry for news

Pen Samithy, editor-in-chief at the Khmer-language Rasmey Kampuchea newspaper, says that increased sales figures seem to indicate a boost in people's interest in news since the conflict.

"Before the conflict erupted we were printing about 15,000-20,000 copies per day, but immediately after it happened, this increased to between 25,000-28,000 per day. Now, the number printed per day is steady at around 20,000," he said.

Ton Yan, general director of Cambodia National Radio, said the numbers of listeners to his station has also increased.

"We know that people are interested in Preah Vihear because they call into our programs to ask and talk about the issue. Moreover, some people call to request songs for the soldiers that are stationed at the border."

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he is pleased that Cambodian citizens are discussing the situation.

"I admire the high attention Cambodian people are giving to protecting their land.... The government has put a lot of effort into solving this problem, and it is good to hear our work is being evaluated by our citizens," he said.

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