Conflict Summary

Diplomatic tension ignited between the kingdoms of Cambodia and Thailand in June 2008 when Cambodia was successful in their bid to list the Preah Vihear Hindu temple as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tension escalated into military clashes when Thai nationalists opposed the Thai government’s decision to drop its objections to Cambodia’s UNESCO bid due to their claims that then Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s concession of a critical 4.6sq km stretch west of the Preah Vihear temple violated the Thai constitution. By October 2008, after months of respective military build-up along the border, armed clashes erupted. Despite the calling of several temporary ceasefires to assist in the peace process, sporadic exchanges of fire persisted into 2009 and 2010. In February 2011, a Cambodian court sentenced two members of a Thai nationalist movement (the ‘Yellow Shirt’ People’s Alliance for Democracy) to up to eight years in prison after finding them guilty of espionage and trespass into the disputed border area near Preah Vihear. This incident inflamed tensions even further, sparking the redeployment of both Cambodian and Thai troops to the border. Following clashes in which around 10 people were killed, 89 were wounded and around 35,000 people were displaced, the peace process has been stymied by Thailand’s opposition to UN mediation and the entry of independent Indonesian observers into the disputed area, saying the conflict can be settled bilaterally. Cambodia, on the other hand, describes itself as being at war with Thailand and insists that the UN send peacekeepers to the disputed area. By April 2011, fighting had spread approximately 100km west of Preah Vihear to the disputed Dangrek hillside and the nearby Ta Krabey and Ta Moan temples.