February 5, 2011 / 8:21 AM / 9 years ago

Q+A: Preah Vihar temple and Thai-Cambodian tension

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Fighting broke out on Friday and Saturday between Thai and Cambodian soldiers on a disputed stretch of the border, the latest flare-up in an ancient feud over a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

The two sides reached a ceasefire by Saturday afternoon.

Below are some facts about the temple, the territorial dispute and possible political ramifications in Thailand.


Preah Vihear, or Khao Phra Viharn as the Thais call it, was completed in the 11th century and predates Cambodia’s more famous Angkor Wat temple complex by 100 years.

Many say its stunning setting atop a jungle-clad escarpment overlooking northern Cambodia also eclipses its celebrated cousin as the finest of all the ruins left from the mighty Khmer civilisation.

The temple has in recent years been accessible mainly from Thailand. Landmines and Khmer Rouge guerrillas kept it off-limits from the Cambodian side for decades.


Both sides have historically laid claim to the temple but a 1962 World Court ruling awarded it to Cambodia.

Thailand and Cambodia have squabbled ever since over demarcation of the border and jurisdiction over 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of land around Preah Vihear, which was not covered by the ruling.

For generations, the temple has stirred nationalist passions on both sides. Before the court in The Hague made its ruling, Thailand’s government organized a fundraiser in which every citizen donated 1 baht to pay for the legal team.


Cambodia’s bid since March 2008 to list the ruins as a World Heritage Site sparked an exchange of gunfire in October that year in which one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers were killed.

There have been sporadic flare-ups since then, the most recent in April last year.

Relations with Cambodia have become a bone of contention in long-running hostility between Thai political factions with pro-establishment “yellow shirt” activists accusing their main rival, ousted former populist premier Thaksin Shinawatra, of colluding with Cambodia to Thailand’s detriment.

The temple dispute has been back in the headlines since the end of last year, when a group of activists allied with the “yellow shirts” was arrested for allegedly encroaching into Cambodian territory.

A Cambodian court sentenced two of them on February 1 to jail terms of six and eight years for trespass and spying.

“Yellow shirt” protesters demonstrating over the territorial dispute near the Thai prime minister’s office since January 25 have threatened to step up their protests as a result, putting pressure on the government to take a tougher line.


The two countries routinely pledge cooperation over the temple, give guarantees their border troops will not engage in hostilities and agree to delineate the border once and for all, but the quarrelling never seems to stop.

Thailand wants joint development and supervision of the Hindu temple, which could one day be a lucrative tourist site.

However, the temple debate is often used in both countries as a tool to gain popular support or to distract the public from other issues.

Compiled by Martin Petty and Alan Raybould; Editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel

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