Battle plan 2011

Better preparation is needed if Thailand is to win the fight with Cambodia over its management plan for Preah Vihear temple.


Thailand celebrated a small victory last week when it managed to persuade the 21-member World Heritage Committee (WHC), meeting in Brazil, to defer a decision on the plan to its meeting next year in Bahrain.

It was the second year in a row that the issue had been postponed.

Cambodia is required to submit a management plan for endorsement after the temple was listed as a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in 2008.

Asda Jayanama, a member of the Thai delegation, predicts the fight with Cambodia will be long and hard.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post, he said Thailand would block the plan again next year if it still involved a disputed border area next to the temple, and if the land was still not demarcated.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had promised that Thailand would do better next time.

It will set up a national committee to handle the issue, to be led by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti.

Thailand also needs to form alliances with key members of Unesco and the WHC to support its position, said Mr Asda, who was appointed by the government less than two weeks before the WHC meeting in Brazil.

Thailand wants to end the dispute over an overlapping border area around the temple before it considers the management plan. Cambodia’s management zone involves part of the disputed territory to the east of the temple, said Mr Asda, a former ambassador to the United Nations in New York.

Thailand also needs to appoint an ambassador to Unesco to handle the issue and lobby other Unesco members, instead of using the ambassador to France as its contact point, Mr Asda said.

Brazil tried to break the deadlock between Thailand and Cambodia, without success.

Mr Asda went to Brazil before Mr Suwit and the other Thai delegates to explain the Thai position to Brazil’s Culture Minister Joao Luiz Silva Ferreira, who chaired the WHC meeting.

The next target for the Thai team led by Mr Suwit is to convince the 19 other members of the WHC to support its cause.

WHC members remain split on who to back, Mr Asda said.

But Mr Suwit told the prime minster that Thailand was an underdog with most members inclined to back Cambodia, as it started lobbying for its plan long before the meeting took place.

Thailand also focused on the delayed distribution of the management plan, which put it at an disadvantage.

The plan was supposed to be distributed six weeks before the meeting. But it was sent to WHC members only on July 27, one day before the meeting was due to discuss the issue.

It was not a full report as the WHC members received only a five-page summary and a map showing the management zone.

Worried about a possible collapse of the meeting due to the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia, the Brazilian chairman tried to find a way out by asking the Thai and Cambodian sides to settle their differences.

Each side had three representatives at the meeting. The Thai side was led by Mr Suwit, with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An leading his delegation.

The atmosphere was tense, as neither side was prepared to give way.

As there was no chance of a compromise, host Brazil devised a seven-point draft decision.

It consulted Cambodia first and then called the two countries together for further discussions.

Several parts of the draft were revised after Thailand objected.

One of the rejected clauses was that the WHC “further welcomes the steps taken by the State Party [Cambodia] towards the establishment of an international coordinating committee for the sustainable conservation of the property”.

The word “property” was rejected because it would include the disputed area in addition to the temple, Mr Asda said.

The compromise was read out to other WHC members on July 28.

The thrust of the compromise was the WHC’s decision to postpone consideration of the management plan to the meeting next year.

News item Courtesy of

A War Revisited / “A Killing Fields survivor”

This is part of a series of articles by Westporter Robert Stokes based on his recent return to Vietnam for the first time since he covered the war from 1966 to l968 as a freelance journalist and later as a staff correspondent for Newsweek Magazine.

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — His name is Roeum Rith, He was our guide for a tour of the temples of Angkor, a 77-square-mile site of the remains of the Khmer Empire founded in 802 A.D. by Jayavarman II, that included Angkor Wat, considered one of the archeological wonders of the world.

What I learned from Mr. Rith had little to do with an ancient civilization, but everything to do with the strength of the human spirit, the will to survive in the face of one of the worst acts of genocide in history — and the values of life that actually count for something.

You see, Mr.Rith, a quiet, soft-spoken, English-speaking tour guide, is a survivor of Pol Pot’s murderous rampage that killed an estimated two million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. The executed were buried in mass graves. In order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using hammers, axe handles, spades or sharpened bamboo sticks. Some victims were required to dig their own graves.

The true story of the genocide was dramatized in a 1984 film, The Killing Fields, that told the story of Dith Pran, a Cambodian journalist, and his journey to escape the death camps.

I did not cover the war in Cambodia, but like most journalists who lost friends and colleagues there, I was affected by the atrocities that occurred there. Mr. Rith’s story gave me the opportunity to describe something positive that resulted from the Vietnam War and its sideshow in Cambodia. And with it, a message of hope for all those who live in the shadow of adversity as well as a lesson for those of us who take for granted the freedom and privileges we enjoy.

Mr. Rith was 7 years old when Pol Pot came to power in April 1975, following the overthrow of the U.S.-supported government of Gen. Lon Nol. He was born in the countryside far from the capitol of Phnom Penh.

“We survived,” said Mr. Rith, “because my family were farmers and the government needed us to produce the rice needed to feed the population. We also lived because we were not from the professional or intellectual classes.”

Despite their lives being spared, Rith and his family remained under a death sentence based on how much rice they were required to produce from each harvest.

“We had to deliver three tons of rice from every harvest,” said Rith. “If not, we would be killed. There wasn’t much left for us to eat. We learned to value the nourishment of insects, frogs and rats. In those days, crickets and grasshoppers were considered delicacies. Many people died from starvation and disease caused by malnutrition. ”

From age 7 to 11, Rith worked in the rice paddies with his parents from dawn to after dark seven days a week. With boys his age from the local village, Rith pushed a large, ox-drawn cart through the wet paddies without help from oxen or water buffalo.

“We weren’t allowed to have animals to help plow the fields,” said Rith. “We did it the hard way — with our hands. Two of us in the front to pull the wagon and four in the back to push.” Rith still bears scars on both legs from cutting himself with a scythe as he harvested the rice.

During those four years of terror enforced by the Khmer Rouge, schools were outlawed. Rith’s life consisted of work, sleep and little food. His only enjoyment, he remembered, was gazing at the spectacular sunrises and sunsets over his rice paddies and dreaming of “living up there in those beautiful clouds.” The normal life of a child as we know it was non-existent for him.

“We lived from day to day, simply thankful to be alive,” he recalled.

In l979, the communist government of Vietnam invaded Cambodia and removed Pol Pot’s regime from power, but the country remained in the grip of civil war and famine for more than a decade afterward. Schools began to return in some parts of the country but not all. Life for Rith and his family remained one of hardship, long hours in the rice paddies, and little to eat.

In the l980s, the United Nations established a health and food distribution center on the Thailand border with Cambodia to help the Cambodian people survive the famine and disease that continued to ravage their land. It was on one of Rith’s mother’s trips to the UN aid station for food that young Rith’s future would change.

“I don’t remember why but I asked my mother to see if she could get me an English self-reader from the UN people,” Rith said, smiling at the memory. Rith’s mother brought back the book and Rith began to teach himself English literally by candlelight that same night.

Rith went back to school and eventually passed the entrance exam for university, majoring in English. He began to teach English at the university and took the exam to be a English-speaking tour guide, a job that he has had for nearly 10 years.

Today, at age 42, Rith balances a life of teaching English, providing guided tours of the Angkor temples, and running a fresh food shop with his wife of 20 years. His wife rises at 3 a.m. each morning to cook food for a local school and Rith carries it on a scooter to their shop at 5:30 before starting his other responsibilities.. He has three daughters, one of whom is engaged to be married, and like fathers all over the world worries about how he will afford the cost of the marriage.

Rith represents Cambodia’s emerging middle class, a family that started out with a single motor scooter as transportation for everyone (mom, dad and three kids all sandwiched together) and now boasts a scooter for each member of the family as well as a car.

“I recently bought a car,” said Rith, chuckling, “but I can’t afford the gas.”

In a larger sense, Rith represents an example of a man who regardless of how his life has improved, and how much adversity he has overcome, still carries the basic values of the seven year old boy of his youth who thanked his god each day for the gift of waking up to see another beautiful sunrise.

Robert Stokes, a Westport resident, covered the war in Vietnam for nearly two years in l967 and l968, first as a freelance journalist, and then as permanent staff for Newsweek magazine He later joined Life magazine, where he served as an associate editor and covered the Attica State Prison riot in 1971. In 1980, Dell published Stokes’ first novel, Walking Wounded, which was based on his war experiences.

US returns 7 stolen ancient Cambodian sculptures

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The United States returned seven sculptures from the great Angkorian era on Thursday that had been smuggled out of Cambodia.

Cambodian Buddhist monks blessed the artifacts during a handover ceremony at the port of Sihanoukville, said John Johnson, a U.S. embassy spokesman.

The sandstone sculptures were recovered by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials during an 2008 raid in Los Angeles. They arrived in Cambodia aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy on Tuesday, Johnson said.

The Mercy docked at the seaport for a 13-day mission to provide free medical care to Cambodians.

Johnson said the artifacts include two heads of the Buddha, a bas-relief and an engraved plinth. The items date from 1000 to 1500 when the kings of Angkor ruled over an extensive empire and produced some of the world’s most magnificent temples, including the famed Angkor Wat complex.

Cambodia and the United States signed an agreement to protect Cambodia’s cultural heritage in 2003.

In 2007, the U.S. government returned the sandstone sculpture of a celestial dancer, or apsara, dating from the 12th century.

Cambodia’s historic monuments suffered extensive damage from natural causes and looters, especially during the wars of the last three decades.

Many priceless pieces have ended up in private collections overseas.

Cambodia ‘stands to lose B40bn’ income

Published: 10/11/2009 at 11:26 AM

Online news: Tourism


Cambodia could lose 30 to 40 billion baht in tourism income as the latest conflict with Thailand is driving Thai and foreign tourists away, Apichart Sangka-aree, an adviser to the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), said on Tuesday.

“On the tourism front, Cambodia will face stronger negative impact from the dispute than Thailand.

”European tourists are now refraining from visiting Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and are instead visiting the Northeast of Thailand, which has a similar culture and tourist attractions,” Mr Apichart said.

Charoen Wang-ananont, chairman of the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA), took the same tone, saying 95 per cent of Thai tourists who had booked tour packages to Cambodia in advance have now cancelled or delayed their trip.

Read more »

Thailand reviews aid to Cambodia after Thaksin row

Tue Nov 17, 2009 12:25am EST

BANGKOK, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Thailand’s cabinet was reviewing aid to Cambodia on Tuesday, a government official said, the latest move in a diplomatic row triggered by a visit by fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to the neighbouring country.

The cabinet will discuss various retaliatory measures, including freezing low-interest loans to build roads in Cambodia, during its weekly meeting, said Panitan Wattanayagorn, deputy secretary-general to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

“Most of the projects discussed are aid and loans for infrastructure projects, which might be delayed or cancelled,” Panitan said.

Read more »

« Previous PageNext Page »