7th Marc, 2011
Read The History of the Khmer-Thai Conflict through the eye of a foreigner.
Preah Vihear temple was constructed by the Khmer kings Suryavarman I (1002 -1050) and Suryavarman II (1113 -1150) and was controlled by subsequent Khmer rulers until the late 18th century. It fell under Siam’s (Thailand’s) control around 1794 when Siamese rulers, taking advantage of a weak and fractured Cambodia, annexed Battambang, Sirisophorn, Tonle Ropov, M’lou Prey (parts of present day’s Stung Treng province) provinces and Siem Reap province which administered Preah Vihear temple before Preah Vihear province was created in 1962 (1).
Due to internal feuding and prolonged and protracted internal strife, Cambodia has become so weak in the later part of 18th and 19th centuries that Cambodia’s eastern part of the Mekong River was controlled by Annam (Vietnam) and the western part of the Mekong River was controlled by Siam (Thailand).
The French Protectorate and the War with Siam
Fearing that Cambodia might eventually be totally swallowed by Vietnam to the east and Thailand to the west, King Norodom (Sihanouk’s great grandfather) had invited King Napoleon III of France to establish a protectorate over Cambodia in 1863.
In 1867, the Siamese rulers recognized France’s protectorate over Cambodia, but Siam still maintained control over Battambang, Sirisophorn, Tonle Ropov, M’lou Prey provinces. In 1883, King Norodom had signed a treaty to put Cambodia under the French colony. Since then, France had always wanted to recover Cambodia’s and Laos’ lost provinces from Siam. In 1886, France fought a brief war with Siam when combined French, Cambodian and Laotian troops pushed Siamese troops beyond the left bank of the Mekong River in Laos in an attempt to liberate all Laotian and Cambodian provinces on the western side of the Mekong River, including Cambodia’s Tonle Ropov and M’lu Prey provinces and Laotian Champassak province.
In 1893, France fought another naval war with Siam on the Gulf of Thailand when French naval forces defeated Siamese naval forces and captured Siamese provinces of Trat and Chantaburi and French naval vessels had reached Bangkok through Menam on 8th July 1893 and gave King Chulalongkorn the ultimatum of France’s wish to re-integrate provinces on the left bank of the Mekong River to France control (2). On 29th July 1893, Siamese King Chulalongkorn had accepted the term of France’s ultimatum. On 3rd October 1893, France and Siam signed a treaty to return all Laotian provinces and the Cambodian provinces of Tonle Ropov and M’lou Prey to French control. France did not demand Siam to return Battambang and Siem Reap province, where Preah Vihear temple was situated, to Cambodia yet, but it had put a clause in the treaty to ban Siam from stationing any Thai troops in the provinces.
However, under the provision of article 3 of the 1893 treaty, France has the rights to recover all Laotian and Cambodian provinces annexed by Siam and provided unrestricted French powers to ensure the protection of all Laotian and Cambodian ethnic minority living in those provinces. The article stipulates “about the rights of France to provide protection to Khmers, Annamites (Vietnamese) and Laotians living inside Siam. France has the obligations to provide protection to these people by laws not to be oppressed by Siamese authority”. This clause means that Siam had lost its sovereignty over all Laotian and Cambodian provinces annexed by Siam. Furthermore, it would mean the return of all of these provinces to Laos and Cambodia.
Realising that Siam had been hard-pressed by France, Siamese King Chulalongkorn embarked on a tour to Russia, Germany, England and then France to garnish support and to lobby them to press France to abandon its ambition to recover all annexed Laotian and Cambodian provinces. In France, he asked French President Félix François Faure to cancel the 1893 Treaty. The French president agreed to cancel the 1893 treaty if Siam agreed to return Battambang, Siem Reap and Chantaburi to French control.
The Return of Battambang and Preah Vihear
In 1902, France cancelled the 1893 treaty and renounced its rights to protect all Khmers, Laotians and Vietnamese living in Siam, by only accepting the return of M’lou Prey and Tonle Ropov provinces, which cover only 20,000 km2. This agreement outraged the French public and the French parliament refused to ratify it. In 1904, France had negotiated a treaty and forced Siam to return M’lou Prey and Tonle Ropov to Cambodia. Under a secret clause in this treaty, Siam is required to transfer all police powers to France in Battambang, Siem Reap and Sirisophorn provinces.
In 1906, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau ordered the French Protectorate Authority to enter into a negotiation with Siam for the return of many more Cambodian annexed provinces. The 1907 Franco-Siamese treaty was concluded on 23rd March which required Siam to return Battambang, Siem Reap (Preah Vihear province was still under Siem Reap) and Sirisophorn provinces to Cambodia. The French parliament ratified the treaty 20 days later. The Mixed Franco-Siamese Commission, which was established a few years earlier, began to conduct border surveys to demarcate the Cambodian-Siamese borders and to plant border posts. After the demarcation works were completed, the Franco-Siamese Commission commissioned the topographic maps called the Dangrek Map. The Dangrek Maps (Annex 1) were produced and they put Preah Vihear temple under Cambodian sovereignty. Siam was given 11 copies of the maps and it had accepted the maps in their entirety (3).
The 1907 Franco-Siamese Treaty
The 1907 Franco-Siamese Treaty only allows the return to Cambodia of the provinces annexed by Siam after 1794. Under the treaty, Siam can retain all other 13 provinces it had annexed before 1794, including Kauk Khan (Sisaket), Surin, Nokor Reach Seima (Korat) , Buriram, Sakeo, Sankeac, Krat (Trat), Chantaburi, Neang Rong (Rayong) and so on, which had been annexed before 1794 (4). Under this treaty, Preah Vihear temple was put under Cambodia’s sovereignty.
The Thai Occupation of Preah Vihear temple and the 1962 ICJ Verdict
In 1954, less than one year after Cambodia gained independence from France and taking advantage of a weak Cambodia, Thailand sent its troops to occupy Preah Vihear temple. After 5 years of unsuccessful negotiations, Cambodia filed a complaint to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in 1959. On 15th June 1962, the ICJ, with the majority votes of 9 to 3, awarded the ownership of Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia. The judgment was accepted by Thailand and the 4.6 sq. km2 so-called “disputed zone” had not been claimed by Thailand for 46 years. The maps commissioned by the Franco-Siamese Mixed Border Commission in 1907 and provided to Thailand in 1908, and were used by the ICJ to reach its verdict in 1962, put the so-called “4.6 sq.km2 disputed zone” squarely under Cambodian sovereignty. With the majority votes of 9 to 3, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has adjudged:
“Thailand is under an obligation to withdraw any military or police forces, or other guards or keepers, stationed by her at the Temple, or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory”.
Thailand was obligated to withdraw all its troops and return all stolen artefacts to Cambodia. And in order to celebrate and to commemorate the ICJ victory over Thailand as well as to prevent future takeover of the temple by Thailand, the Cambodian government had created a new province in 1962 called Preah Vihear province, to honour the temple.
However, on 15th July 2008, one week after Unesco inscribed Preah Vihear temple on 7th July 2008, Thailand sent its troops to re-invade and re-occupy the Preah Vihear surroundings, the temple vicinity, and triggered a border conflict till today.
The so-called 4.6 sq.km2 disputed zone
The 1962 ICJ verdict (5) stated clearly that Thailand is under an obligation to withdraw troops from “the Temple, or its vicinity on Cambodian territory.” Maps from the 1907 treaty put the temple and its areas, the so-called 4.6 sq. km2, or the temple’s “vicinity”, claimed by Thailand, inside Cambodia. So, the 4.6 sq. km2 did not exist and the 1962 ICJ verdict was clear: the so-called 4.6 sq. km2 areas or the temple’s “vicinity” currently claimed by Thailand have been judged to belong to Cambodia.
By the 1962 verdict of the ICJ, the 1907 Franco-Siamese Treaty and the 1908 map, the 4.6 sq. km2 did not exist and therefore Thailand’s current act of aggression against Cambodia by forcibly occupying the 4.6 sq. km2 zone constitutes an invasion of a sovereign state that could proceed to cause a regional instability. Cambodia, as a member of the international community, should seek international legal remedy one more time to settle the matter once and for all.
(1) Battambang during the Times of the Lord Governor, p. 211.