Sunday, February 20, 2011

Will It Ever End?

The dispute about the Preah Vihear temple and the adjoining territories is into its 3rd year without an end in sight. If it were not so serious, one could easily dismiss this as politicking to enhance politicians’ stature. By all appearances, though, there are real fanatics at work; these would be the so-called yellow shirts in Thailand.

A possible, surely very unofficial scenario, of the recent round of fighting along the border must have gone down like this: the Thai PM called for the removal of the Cambodian flag from a temple in a disputed district. The Cambodian PM promptly denied this. So what could the Thai PM do? Nothing. This enraged his power base – the yellow shirts. They vowed to make things right and took matters into their own hands and marched to the border, most likely with the aim of removing that hated flag.

The Cambodian soldiers stationed at the border seeing the advance of the yellow shirts, probably accompanied by Thai soldiers, feared an invasion and opened fire. Needless to say, the Thai side retaliated in kind and in the end there were 2 or more dead (exact numbers are hard to come by even today), and many injured soldiers and civilians on both sides.

As happens in such cases, both sides claimed to have prevailed, but the result tends to point to the Cambodians as winners - the flag is still there, the territory is still Cambodian.

One can only suspect what happened the following days. It is well conceivable that the Cambodian soldiers were a little nervous and therefore trigger-happy. At the slightest movement on the other side they fired a few rounds in that direction, which promptly flared into another exchange of artillery rounds and machine gun fire.

Enough is enough, the Cambodian PM said and called on the UN Security Council to deal with this matter and send in UN observers or even peacekeepers. Finally, he also sent a letter to the International Court of Justice in The Hague ‘to clarify’ their 1962 judgment that the disputed territory belongs to Cambodian, as does Preah Vihear. How about that? Why didn’t that happen two years ago?

Diplomacy being diplomacy, one couldn’t really expect any concrete steps from the UNSC. I mean, the UN is a paper tiger anyway when it comes to resolving armed conflicts. Why should it be any different now? Surely enough, it called for ‘utmost restraint’. My goodness, that will defuse the situation, won’t it?

Having been sort of rebuffed, the PM then made a proposal to have ASEAN observers present. A smart move, as in the past practically all Cambodian moves were smarter than the incessant Thai calls for a bi-lateral solution. Even the Thai English-language newspapers acknowledged this fact. After more than 2 years, it must be clear to even the most naïve observer that a bi-lateral solution is not possible. So, now what?

Of course, the Thai PM is on wobbly legs already and needs to maneuver cautiously among the various factions of his supporters. The army is already itching to send him where he belongs, namely in some corporate boardroom. One thing is clear. The Thai PM cannot control his regional military commanders, let alone the military per se. Those regional commanders run their districts like fiefdoms, it is said; and it seems they all have their own agenda. It is a well-known fact that military people are not exactly known for their progressive thinking. Consequently, one cannot expect much from that side.

So will it be more of the same in the coming months and years, or will the Thai side finally come to their senses? And it is clearly them who are on the wrong side of history and international law here. We’ll see - check the news in the coming days for new developments – I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

What is so frustrating and disappointing, and one could really lose one’s faith in the intellectual abilities of politicians, if one hasn’t already, is that this is happening in the 21st century, where leaders throughout the world are supposed to be more open-minded and have a better understanding of the complexities of human interaction. Hasn’t anybody learned that armed conflict never solves anything permanently? But then, I never thought a war in Iraq or a continuing war in Afghanistan would ever happen. All the time people are dying for their leaders’ mistakes. Human lives aren’t worth much, are they? To me, this whole conflict is a travesty of diplomacy and a human tragedy, both in terms of the loss of individual lives and of the inability of leaders to resolve a needlessly deadly conflict.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bo says:

We have looked into history in order to understand how we arrived at where we are today. For the last fifty years Thailand has enjoyed economic prosperity and peace, while most of its neighbors were engaging in political and economic conflict and war. The countries such as Lao, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Burma (Myanmar) were in turmoil and have hardly had any break from conflict. However, today the tide has turned, the wars have subsided and these countries are trying to play catch up with Thailand and they are doing pretty good job of it, even though it might take them another twenty years.

Nowadays, tourists and investors are not merely going to Thailand, but also going to other countries as well in Southeast Asia, and now Thailand has to share the wealth and prosperity with their next door neighbors. Thailand’s economy is beginning to slow down. The gap between the rich and poor is widening. Its national deficit is quickly increasing. Thais are looking for something or someone to blame and they are using Preah Vihear as a starting point. The Yellow Shirts, mostly in Bangkok, have seen the evidence first hand as many of their businesses and jobs are coming to a halt. They blame Thaksin Shinawatra as the source of they problem for dealing with Cambodia. When Thaksin Shinawatra was done away with due to military coup, Thailand still could not fix its economy, so they expelled one prime minister after other in hope of fixing the problem, which still has not worked. They seem to change their prime minister as often as they change their underwear or maybe they just flip it inside out when it gets dirty. Now, they want to expel Abhisit Vejjajiva as well for not gaining any ground with Cambodia. Their politics are as stinky and spicy as the food they eat. They call their country democratic but the prime minister, who was elected by the majority, was overthrown by the rich and powerful minority.

For Cambodia, the Hun Sen government is not quiet. They seem to try to keep campaigning all year round in order to get the people to be loyal to the government. Whenever the government accomplishes something such as building bridges and roads, or when they increase foreigners’ investments, they have to show off, not just to Cambodians, but to the world. Every television channel displays it. This behavior does not make the envious Thais any happier.