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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN, not magic, needed to solve Preah Vihear

UN, not magic, needed to solve Preah Vihear

Dear Editor,

Early this month, The Nation newspaper in Bangkok reported that many Thai residents in Si Sa Ket province, which borders Cambodia, wore yellow to help protect Thailand from black-magic spells cast by Khmer "wizards" who met at Preah Vihear Temple during the solar eclipse earlier this month.

On August 1, Bun Rany, the wife of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, led Buddhist monks and soldiers to the ancient Hindu temple to call upon their ancestors to protect the temple.

While the Thai astrologers considered the solemnly organised prayer at the temple Cambodia's way to cast magic spells on Thailand, the use of magic by Cambodians has prevailed for centuries.

According to the Khmer-language book The Tale of Ancient History, in 1502 under the reign of King Chan Raja there was a Khmer warrior named Moeung who fearlessly fought against Siam, as Thailand was known in the past.

Unable to bear Siamese colonial dominance, the Khmer king ordered his men to kill the Siamese king's son who was controlling Cambodia. The Siamese king found out and sent troops to arrest King Chan Raja and his court. But Chan Raja's lady-in-waiting, Pen, escaped with army chief Moeung, his wife and four children.

The Siamese prepared a massive attack. But Chan Raja's son, Prince Chey Ahcha, had neither enough troops nor weapons to fight them.

When asked if he could think of any tactics to win, Meoung told Prince Chey Ahcha an odd plan: to recruit a ghost army.

He ordered his men to dig a deep rectangular hole and to plant spears and swords at the bottom.

"Please use every effort in this battle to liberate Cambodia from the enemy," he told his troops. "If within seven days after I die you hear a thunder-like cheering, we will win."

Upon that Moeung jumped into the grave and impaled himself. His wife and two sons followed, killing themselves too.

Exactly seven days later, the cheering of the ghost army came from every direction as  Chey Ahcha's army advanced to stop the invading Siamese troops near Battambang.

"The ghost army went to the front to display their might and made the Siamese troops dizzy, gave them stomach aches and made them vomit," the book says. "Chey Ahcha's army killed all the Siamese soldiers."

After victory Chey Ahcha was crowned King Preah Chey Chehsda of Cambodia. He ordered a ceremony to commemorate the spirit of his army chief, who earned the title "Neak Ta Khlaing Moeung".

During Cambodia's civil war between the 1970s and early 1990s, many Khmer soldiers would also seek supernatural protection in the forms of tattoos, magic kerchiefs and magic words written in Pali or Sanskrit, the currently dead languages used during the Angkorean period.

Nevertheless, the use of magic could probably give only spiritual strength for believers and might not provide any real solutions.

While the prayer at the temple was a good religious, non-violent approach, Cambodia may need to negotiate more with Thailand to solve the border disputes. It probably needs intervention by the United Nations Security Council if the bilateral talks stall.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh

Phnom Penh



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