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'Big Mistake' in Temple Application: Expert

[Editor's note: Cambodia and Thailand agreed in a May 22 meeting in Paris that Cambodia would be allowed to forward an application for the controversial Preah Vihear temple to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. The temple rests on a disputed northern border region, and Cambodia has agreed only to apply for the temple grounds to be listed and not the land surrounding it. VOA Khmer asked Sean Pengse, director of the Paris-based Cambodia Border Committee, for his thoughts. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.]

Q. Recently, Cambodian government and Thai government agreed to take only the temple itself on the mountain to put into the list of world’s heritage. Is the decision not to include the areas surrounding the temple into the list of world’s heritage right? Please give your comment.

A. Putting Preah Vihear temple as the world’s heritage by Unesco without putting the surrounding areas is a big mistake. First of all, it is against the verdict of the international court in the Hague in 1962. The court decided that the temple and areas surrounding belonged to Cambodia. Secondly, not putting the surrounding areas will cost Cambodian integrity because Cambodian land including Preah Vihear since the 1991 Paris Peace Accord has to be preserved and treated as Cambodian land. This is the Paris Peace Accord in 1991. If we refer to the international treaty which was signed by France and Thailand in 1904 and 1907, it is also the same. The decision is against both the former and the later treaties. Therefore, we lose our land, and it is against the Paris peace treaty and the 1904 and 1907 treaty between Thailand and France.

Q. What did Thailand gain from the latest agreement?

A. I would like give a small footnote. Initially, in 1998, after Cambodia got out of Pol Pot’s dictatorship power, Preah Vihear was put as a region for joined business with Thailand. Therefore, Thailand made a lot of income, and Thailand now wants to continue this further. Responding to your question that Thailand and Cambodia with Unesco as a coordinator decided to put only Preah Vihear temple in World’s Heritage is not correct. But why did they decide so?

I would like to inform people that last month the Thai Prime Minister came to meet [Prime Minister] Hun Sen, and they made a decision to put Preah Vihear temple, but not the areas surrounding it. The Thai Prime Minister came to meet Hun Sen in Phnom Penh last month. Therefore, the decision by Sok An and the Thai Foreign Minister as well as a referee from Unesco was the decision on the decision of the prime ministers. It is not something to be surprised about. The decision of the prime ministers was against the decision of international court. They never put the temple alone. This act was against the decision of the international court, and this was the first time in the world that one country erased the decision made by the international court.

Thailand forced Cambodia to work against the decision of the international court. This is the first time in the world, and it is the biggest mistake of the Royal Government of Cambodia.

Q. Why does Thailand strongly wants to own the areas surrounding Preah Vihear temple?

A. Preah Vihear is small. But I want to say briefly that the Cambodian Border Committee in Cambodia, the Cambodian government, sets up border markers with Thailand and Vietnam. They set up new border markers and drew a new map because the old map is not clear. Thailand also called the Cambodian ambassador to meet them and told Cambodia to tell France that the map is old. Therefore, the other maps are also not clear. Therefore, when Thailand saw that Vietnam gained a lot from the border issue, Thailand wanted to set up new border markers with Cambodia.

Making a new map is just an excuse. The Cambodian government falls into their trap. We already have a map recognized internationally, and the international court in the Hague decided on the Preah Vihear issue attached with the map.

Why didn’t we work on the existing map? Why do the new map? We don’t know the reason why they make new map. This is such a regretful a mistake. On behalf of the Cambodia Border Committee in France, I condemned the Royal Government. This is the incompetent government, and we call on the government to revise the border again, both land and maritime border.

Q. Unesco requires that Cambodia submit the application to put Preah Vihear as the World Heritage and requires that Cambodia draw a new map. Does Cambodia have to draw a new map? Do we have enough time? If they draw new map, do they do with correct standard?

A. This is a good question. I would like to say that we don’t have time. If we make a new map, we not only draw the map around Preah Vihear. Why do I dare to say so? Why do we need a new map? We already have a map. And the decision on the temple was decided with the existing map. The map was attached to the decision of the international court in the Hague. Why do we need to draw a new map? If we want to do, we can put border markers according to the decision of the international court. We should not draw a new map.

If we draw a new map, we don’t have time. What map do they base it on? We already have a map. In 2000, according to the memorandum of understanding, they established “white areas,” so we already fall into their traps. That’s why our committee does not agree on the idea to draw new border map because we have a clear map, and we have a decision from the international court in the Hague, and the decision was decided with the map. If they want the map, come meet me; I have it.

Q. In the end, do you have any appeal to the Cambodian government and Cambodian people about Preah Vihear temple?

A. First of all, I would like tell the government that putting only Preah Vihear temple and not the surrounding areas is against the decision of international court in the Hague. Cambodian people have to make sure that Cambodian government respects only one which is to respect the decision made by international court in 1962. Cambodian won the case on Preah Vihear temple. They did not decide on only the temple, but the areas surrounding with map attachment. I call on the government to respect this decision.