The Cambodian view on border clashes with Thailand

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 18, 2011 In a comment in the English language The Phnom Penh Post, co-founder and former editor-in-chief Michael Hayes expressed his view on the most recent Thai-Cambodian border clashes and reflects on the national feeling about this issue. He writes:

At the very least I’ve never been called a spin doctor for the Cambodian government. But on the issue of the current border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand surrounding Wat Preah Vihear, I’m as angry as all Cambodians are at what we perceive as a Thai-initiated conflict of grossly unjust proportions. (...)

The nagging question that perplexes us all is why Thailand is trying to export its domestic political problems and dump them on poor Cambodia? The sentiment here is that if the red shirts and the yellow shirts want to fight it out, do so somewhere in Thailand, but don’t use Cambodia as a scapegoat.

"The view from Cambodia", by Michael Hayes, The Phnom Penh Post, February 17, 2011

We have recently blogged about the Thai national(-istic) implications of the border clashes, but just to recap: The PAD are partly to be blamed for the recent flareups in battles at the border that begun earlier this year when seven Thais were captured on Cambodian territory including a Democrat MP and Veera Somkwamkid, an infamous activist of the PAD-allied Thai Patriots Network, who has been very vocal about the border issues and known to getting into trouble several times at the very same place. That's probably why Veera and another activist have been sentenced to multiple years in jail (btw, it looks like they won't get off the hook that easy via a royal pardon).

The PAD have been protesting since late January on the streets near government house and have repeatedly viciously attacked the government and also the army, who may have some "some wounded pride among the top generals as a result of the PAD's assertions that the army has been weak" (Source: Reuters). All in all, as hinted in Hayes' comment, the border clash is a result of Thai domestic politics and ratcheted up by the ultra-nationalistic PAD. But the red shirts are absolutely on the sidelines about this issue.

Hayes continues:

In the 20 years I’ve been in Cambodia the Preah Vihear issue is without question the only one I’ve seen that has united the entire nation. Cambodian TV stations have been running fundraisers off and on with donations large and small pouring in from all quarters for two years. Even the normally truculent Sam Rainsy Party and others in the opposition are fully on board.

"The view from Cambodia", by Michael Hayes, The Phnom Penh Post, February 17, 2011

Really? In an analysis by the Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) it paints a different picture of the Cambodian opposition:

Abhisit's PAD problems are somewhat mirrored in Cambodia by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party's hounding of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The party accused Hun Sen of neglecting land controversies in the border demarcation process with Vietnam while highlighting the confrontation with Thailand.

'He is trying to avoid the border issue with Vietnam,' said Chhaya Hang, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, a Phnom Penh-based non-governmental organization. (...)

Hun Sen might also be under pressure to speed up the Thai-Cambodian border conflict for budgetary reasons.

"ANALYSIS: Domestic politics muddy Thai-Cambodian border spat", DPA, February 9, 2011 (via KI-Media)

Nevertheless, Hayes' comment correctly points out the problems on the Thai side. The conflict stems from made-up false propaganda that is revived by the ultra-nationalists, partly to fight against their descend into obscurity, partly to avenge their disappointment over a government, which they thought have helped to come into existence.

This very government meanwhile, is trying stubbornly to keep this matter and its eventual resolution strictly bilateral, which is one of the reasons it has most recently refused to sign a ceasefire agreement with Cambodia, which asks observers from ASEAN to monitor to area.