Talks resume over Thai-Cambodian Temple

Preah Vihear temple. Courtesy Cambodian Tourism

Diplomatic talks between Cambodia and Thailand have resumed after an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

Thailand and Cambodia fought for decades over the site of an ancient temple which sits squarely on the border between the two countries. Both nations claim it is part of their territory and both cite colonial powers for its annexation.

A closed-door session between members of ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations), Thai and Cambodian authorities has brought this age-old border conflict to diplomatic attention.

In a statement to the press, Brazilian ambassador – Brazil is chair of the UN Security Council for February – Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti said the Security Council “called on the two sides to display maximum restraint and avoid any action that may aggravate the situation.”

The UN SC further added they called for a “permanent ceasefire” to be “implemented fully and resolve the situation peacefully and through effective dialogue.”

Renewed border conflicts began earlier this month and have thus far claimed five lives, including civilians, ASEAN reports. Both sides blame each other for instigating the violence.

The border dispute goes back to the early 20th century, when Siamese and French authorities jointly drew up plans for Cambodia’s borders. It was agreed that the border would follow the mountain range of the Dangrek, placing the temple completely in Thai territory. However, the map used by the ICJ in their 1962 ruling on the Thai-Cambodian border showed the temple as being squarely in Cambodia.

The court ruled by a majority of 9-3 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, demanding also that Thailand hand over any artefacts taken from the temple site.

In 1963, Cambodia formally took control of the temple. Prince Sihanouk, who ruled the country at the time, announced in an ‘opening’ ceremony that all Thais were free to visit the temple without travel visas, further adding that Thailand may keep any antiquities taken from the site.

Built between the 9th and 13th centuries, during the Khmer Empire, the temple of Preah Vihear stands atop Pey Tadi, part of the Dangrek range of mountains.

800m in length along a north-south axis rather than the traditional east-west axis used in Asian temples, Preah Vihear has a metaphorical as well as literal prominence.

5 traditional gopuras welcome visitors to the temple, who have to make an arduous one-hour trek up the side of the mountain to access the site.

Once there, the view afforded is awe-inspiring.






Images courtesy Cambodian Tourism

Preah Vihear follows the tradition of the famous temples of Angkor. It is a visual representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods.

Cambodian kings have used the temple as a symbol of religious and political power, making changes to its appearance as they desired. The result is a temple with many architectural styles, reflecting the changes its surrounding area has undergone.

A map of Cambodian territory from the early 20th century


  1. It’s a good sign that the UNSC has got involved in it. If politics alone were to determine to whom that temple belonged, it could’ve suffered a lot of damage, vanadalism, etc with each side claiming it to be the work of the other. Hopefully diplomats will resolve the issue soon before impatience restores the problem to the politicians. Back to square 1!!!

    And good to see the blog active once more. An entry everyfortnight in 2011. Keep it up.


    1. I agree, it’s better than having the UNGA involved, which would draw out the diplomatic process longer than it should be. My hope is that the temple doesn’t suffer, because it’s currently being used as a vantage point by the Cambodian army. Being at the top of a hill, you have a good view of the enemy. Plus it’s a way to show your stance on the whole thing; “this is our land” etc.

      The temple needs to be preserved and cared for, it’s really quite unique considering where it was built – on a hill – and its sheer size. It’s also one of very few Hindu temples built on that north-south axis.

      On the blog – got plenty more posts lined up, I just need to find good accompanying photos (yes, always with the pretty pictures) and edit them a little bit. 🙂


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