Thailand’s Claim to Ancient Cambodia


Fighting broke out again last month along the frontier between Thailand (Siam) and Cambodia, over which country has the right to control certain ancient sites along their mutual border

The ancient areas were historically within the Kingdom of Siam. When Colonial France arrived, they took Cambodia (1863), and made it part of French-Indochina. As the French moved further inland, they pressured Siam to give up what is now western Cambodia, under the Franco-Thai Treaty (1904). A Boundary Commission set the border between Siam and Indochina (1904-07), and a Frenchman prepared a map that put the ancient sites in Cambodia, which they agreed to under a treaty protocol (1907). Cambodia thereafter owned the temples, pyramids and stone figures at Angkor Wat, the Preah Vihear Temple, and other sites.

When France surrendered in WWII (1940), Siam (now Thailand) invaded Cambodia in the Franco-Thai War (1940-41), and seized the ancient lands, but they had to give them back five years later, as France threatened to veto Thailand’s UN membership (1946).

After France surrendered in Vietnam (1954), they withdrew from Indochina, and Cambodia became independent. Thailand filled the void by sending troops to seize the ancient sites (1954), causing Cambodia to sue in the International Court of Justice (1959).

In Cambodia v Thailand (1962), the issue was whether the Preah Vihear Temple was inside of Thailand or Cambodia. Even though the French border map contained mistakes, and the Preah Vihear Temple should have been located on the Thai side of the border, the court found Thailand accepted the old map 50 years earlier, and ruled they were now barred from arguing otherwise.

International law has ruled upon the border, and even though Siam had the famous temples before the colonial French arrived, the world has lived by an international rule-of-law since WWII, and Thailand must now make every effort to keep the peace with Cambodia, by staying on their own side of the fence.

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