The Preah Vihear Temple – Killing and Dying Over Ancient Stones


Located on a breathtaking cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, the ancient Hindu temple of Preah Vihear is decorated with elaborate carvings and complex stone architecture. It has stood since the reign of the Khmer Empire and construction began on it during the early 9th century. It was dedicated to the Hindu god Chiva and the mountain god Bhadrasvara and Sikharesvara.

This ancient temple, rich with history and cultural tradition, has become the subject of a very highly charged and emotional dispute between the two countries of Thailand and the now independent Cambodia.

What is the Debate All About?

Both Thailand and Cambodia have laid claim to the land that the temple exists upon at different periods before and after the time of French Colonial rule in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. In 1962, the International Court of Justice made a ruling that the temple belonged to Cambodia.

However, in this ruling the court only specified the ownership of the temple, not the immediate surrounding area which is claimed by both Cambodia and Thailand. When in 2008 the temple was submitted by Cambodia to become a World Heritage Site, there were violent clashes within the disputed area. The Thais and the Cambodians almost broke out in war over these ancient ruins, as the dispute brought up a lot of deep emotions, mistrust and painful history between these two countries. A number of conflicts occurred during that year and this lead to the deaths of at least eight people, as well as the displacement of tens of thousands.

Both countries have since then agreed to demilitarise the disputed area and Cambodia has submitted a request for the International Court of Justice to rule on the ownership of the territory in question.

Currently the International Court of Justice is postponing delivering the ruling on the border dispute. Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul has stated that the ruling will now be given in February of next year, as the International Court of Justice judges are occupied with many other cases at the moment.

Why Fight and Kill Over Some Ancient Stones?

When it comes down to it, the very best solution for this conflict would be for both Thailand and Cambodia to agree to share the temple and the grounds and co-manage them. The important thing to remember is that land borders are just imaginary lines in the ground and life is too short anyway to kill and be killed over such a small area of land.

Both countries would benefit from a peaceful compromise, as the conflict in the area only drives away tourism which is an important industry in the region. Peace will bring more tourists to both Thailand and Cambodia, so that they can marvel at the beauty and history of this ancient Kmer temple.

The temple is open to tourists now, although many have been scared away by the history of conflicts in recent years. Only a few take the option to charter a car for the day and make the trip from Ubon Ratchathani or Siem Reap to explore the temple.

It’s so sad that this ancient site has been the cause of so much conflict and death. A temple should be a sacred monument of peace and humanity, not a war site.

What are your thoughts on the Preah Vihear Temple dispute? Let us know your opinion in the comments. 

photo credit: TrojanTraveler via photopin cc


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