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Blame it on the French?

Ah, the vicissitudes of colonialism. Cambodia’s Preah Vihear temple complex hit the headlines again after UNESCO declared it a new world heritage site only last July 7, 2008.

Well, it’s Cambodia’s, on the say so of the World Court in a famous 1962 case known to students of international law by the temple’s name. The Thais claimed the complex as theirs but in the end, they lost the legal argument. The World Court said the French, who used to be the Cambodians’ colonial master, had drawn a map in colonial days clearly showing the temple as part of the territorial boundaries of its colonial subject. Unfortunately for the Thais, they couldn’t show any such map establishing that from time immemorial, the complex had always belonged to them.

The declaration of the Paris-based Unesco has apparently opened old wounds.

Naturally, overjoyed Cambodians couldn’t keep to themselves their happiness over the declaration; their Thai neighbors of course, remembered the slight they suffered when they lost the case — and the temple — to the Cambodians. Now Thailand is sending troops close to the area that should no longer be in legal dispute. In the very place, Thailand still occupies land to the north adjacent to the complex that, according to the International Court of Justice’s half a century-old ruling, should belong to Cambodia.

So, is there going to be a shooting war between the two countries anytime soon?

We hope not.

My friend Bernard, a law student and resident of the University of the Philippines International Center, also hopes no such thing breaks out. He’s worried that the lone Thai and the three Cambodians who are residents at the Center would soon come to blows over the world famous temple.

Bernard is beside himself telling me the story that last night, the only Thai at the dormitory paid his Laotian roommate a visit after the former realized the terrible implications to his personal security of the numerical superiority of the Cambodians. The poor and outnumbered Thai saw the angry looks the Cambodians have been throwing at his direction since news broke out that the Thai government had deployed troops in the vicinity of their beloved temple in the wake of the Unesco declaration. He got so jittery that he decided to seek counsel from Bernard’s Laotian roommate, who happens to speak Thai too. The Laotian spent the whole night reassuring the Thai and later complained to Bernard how the whole thing is beginning to get on his nerves (not to mention eating up so much of his time and energy).

But for now, rapprochement seems the farthest thing from the minds of the Cambodians at the Center, their Thai counterpart thinks. And he is just as unwilling to surrender the temple to the Cambodians according to what international law has ruled long ago. The chill in Thai-Cambodian relations at the Center is but a preview to the messy border dispute the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will soon have to face.

Good thing that this semester, no French student is billeted at the Center. That, or the international crisis at the Center would be sure to escalate and French President Nicolas Sarkozy just might be forced to send Carla Bruni to mediate.

Written by Romel

July 19, 2008 at 1:42 pm

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