Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hereditary Enemies

900-year-old Preah Vihear temple in Cambodia

BANGKOK, July 16 (Reuters) - Thailand and Cambodia moved on Wednesday to ratchet down tensions on their border where hundreds of troops faced off over a disputed ancient temple.

Senior Thai and Cambodian officials were trying to negotiate an end to the stand-off, triggered by Thai protests against the the listing of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site earlier this month, Thailand's Supreme Commander, Boonsrang Niumpradit, told Reuters.

"Please be calm and patient. We are talking with the senior people in Cambodia and we hope the situation will ease up in a few days," he said.

However, tensions might get worse on Thursday when Thai protesters plan to rally near the border "to protect our sovereignty", a protest leader said. About 200 Thai soldiers and 380 Cambodian troops faced each other a day after three Thai activists were detained for several hours after trying to plant a Thai flag on the temple site.

Angkor Watt in Cambodia

In December 1997 - January 1998, I attended the Fifth International Conference on Buddhist Women organized in Phnom Penh by Sakyadhita ( Although I was carrying a Canadian passport, I was told to be discreet and careful because Vietnamese are still hated and despised by the local population.

So of course, on the bus taking the Conference participants to visit Angkor Watt, I started asking our tour guide all kinds of difficult questions.

Q : Why do you hate the Vietnamese?
A : Duh! They are our hereditary enemies!
Q: Didn't they deliver you from the Khmer Rouge?
A: Yes, I have to say that I am glad they invaded us and removed the Khmer Rouge.
Q: So why do you hate them?
A: They invaded our country and took our lands.
Q: But that was centuries ago. And the Thai also invaded your country and took your lands. And so did the Burmese. Why aren’t you mad at them?
A: Uh..uh.. well...
Q: The Thai invaded your country as recently as during the 60s. [In 1962, Thailand invaded the same Preah Vihear temple that they are now trying to take over.] I remember King Sihanouk having to go to the International Court of Justice to force the Thai to give back the land. The Thai also claim that Angkor Watt belongs to them. And didn’t the Thai remove the Emerald Buddha from Angkor Watt and take it to Bangkok? Why are the Vietnamese your hereditary enemies, but not the Thai?
A: Uh… We are going to stop at this farm for a demonstration of rice cultivation.

Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok

Update - 18 July 2008 : Video clip (in French) about the conflict (from Le Monde)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why does it seem that you hate on the Thais? They're an amazingly friendly people, warm and hardworking. And yet throughout your blog posts, you seem to be bashing them regularly, all the whilst praising Vietnam. I understand that you like Vietnam, but there is no need to put other Southeast Asian people down, or pit them against each other as you had done here.

- A Singaporean commentator