Friday, December 07, 2007

Disputed Prasat Ta Muen Thom temple

Prasat Ta Muen Thom - a tug of war between Cambodia & Thailand
If you're not aware, one of my biggest passions is visiting ancient Khmer temples, dotted around the Cambodian countryside. However, there are a series of Khmer temples in northeast Thailand that I have yet to visit so I was particularly interested in a report from Radio Free Asia's correspondent Kim Pov Sottan yesterday - the full report is in the Comments section - which highlighted the issue surrounding the 12th century Angkorean temple of Prasat Ta Muen Thom - which is in fact three ruined structures all with the same name - in a location that seems to be on the very border between Cambodia and Thailand. If you speak to the Khmers in the locality, they'll tell you that the temple is Cambodian and that the Thai's have stolen it in the last few years, whilst the Thai's have assumed responsibility for the temple and built a paved road for easy access for visitors. The report from RFA suggested that even the Thai military commmander for the area claims that the temple is in a 'white zone' which is technically a disputed, no-man's land. Cambodia has experienced border disputes with Thailand and Vietnam over many years and the long drawn-out process to resolve them and agree on the exact position of the border markers is frustratingly slow. Cambodia has a history of disputing temple ownership with Thailand, with Preah Vihear being the most publicized but Prasat Ta Muen Thom is important in it's own right and if both countries are claiming ownership, somehow the deadlock needs to be broken. At the moment, Thailand is in possession and Cambodians are left to peer over the fence at this reminder of their glorious past. Photo: courtesy Mike Newman.


Andy said...

Cambodia’s Ta Moan Temple currently occupied by Thailand

By Kim Pov Sottan
Radio Free Asia
Translated from Khmer by Heng Soy

The dispute between Thailand and Cambodia to occupy the Ta Moan Temple, located in Banteay Amil district, Oddar Meanchey province, did not reach any conclusion yet up to now. However, villagers from the area claim that this Cambodian Temple is currently under occupation by Thailand and this situation took place about three years ago.

30-year-old Ly Ros who lives in Banteay Chhmar district and who used to visit the Ta Moan Temple last year, claimed that Thailand built a paved road all the way to the temple, and opened it for tourist visit from the Thai side, however, for Cambodian people, the Thai allow us to visit this temple only once a year, during the Cambodian New Year celebration (in mid-April).

Ly Ros said: “There are Thai guards, we do not dare go in as we want to, we can enter through one road only, and it is guarded on both sides, they don’t allow us in … The wouldn’t allow us in, they guard the entire area, and they issue us a letter to go in to visit, when we return back, they demand back the letter they issued.”

24-year-old On Voa who also lives in the same village as Ly Ros, added that he is very deceived when he arrived here as it turns out that the Thai soldiers are occupying the temple instead. He said: “I used to visit the place, I was told that this is a Khmer Temple, but when I visited it, it was the Thai who occupied it. When I arrived there, we saw only Thai soldiers surrounding the entire temple. They left only one road to go visit. They limited the (visit) time between 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM, then they told us to leave.”

Regarding whether the ancient Ta Moan Khmer Temple is located in Thailand or in Cambodia? Historian Michel Tranet indicated that the temple is indeed a Khmer temple built between the 11th and 12th century, however, he cannot say whether it is located in Cambodia or not.

RFA visited the Kou village, Chhouk commune, Banteay Ampil district, which is the last village located 8-kilometer from the border and the Ta Moan Temple. We could not enter the temple area because Thailand closed its entrance, and we must wait until the Cambodian New Year before being able to go in.

55-year-old Monk Nath Nouen who lives in Kiri Sakor pagoda in Kou village, said that during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era (Sihanouk regime), the temple was under Cambodian occupation.

Monk Nath Noeun said: “During the Lon Nol regime (1970-1975), I was a soldier and I guarded the temple. When the regime changed (in the 90s?), I stopped guarding it, and then the Thai came in.”

60-year-old Kong who used to be a self-defense soldier in the past claimed that: “Before, I was a self-defense soldier, and I was guarding the temple there. Right after the war (early 90s), they (Thai) came in to occupy it, before that, they were never there … They built road straight into the temple. I don’t know what to do, should we protest or not? I am very upset, this is our temple, but it’s occupied by the foreigners instead.”

60-year-old Phal Pheuy indicated that all the villagers born in the area, all said that the Ta Moan Temple belongs to Cambodia, but in the past 3-years, the villagers can no longer enter the temple.

Phal Pheuy said: “Nowadays, I am begging the government and the authority again and again, I am asking them to help resolve the Ta Moan Temple issue. I am very saddened that our current Cambodian children and grandchildren see (this temple) as belonging to them (Thai), this is ours, we lost it completely.”

Orn Roeun, the Banteay Ampil district governor, recognized that the Ta Moan Khmer ancient Temple fell into the Thai occupation about three years ago, when Thailand built a paved road reaching the temple.

Orn Oeun said: “To sum it up, in the last 2-3 years, Thailand built a road and came to occupy the temple. Earlier, during the Sangkum era (Sihanouk regime), and up to 1993, we moved back into our territory, therefore, when our troops move back in, Thailand moved their troops forward to defend their territories, when they saw the temple, they made the arrangement (to occupy it). This issue is of (high) concerns for us, but it is an issue that must be dealt by the government.”

Even though the villagers and the local authorities claim that the Ta Moan Temple area was occupied by the Thai authority only in the past three years, the army commander of the military region 4, in charge of defending the border in this area, claimed that the Ta Moan Temple turned into a “White Zone” (disputed no-man’s-land). This means that it does not belong to Thailand yet, even though Thailand built a paved road and opened the temple for tourist visit.

The commander of military region 4 said: “The geography of the Ta Moan Temple is considered as a “white zone”, it depends on the government to decide. Currently, we are at the bottom, and we patrol the area every day.”

Khieu Kanharith, the government spokesman, stressed that the Ta Moan Temple belongs to Cambodia, and that this issue is still under dispute.

Khieu Kanharith added the Cambodian government is working hard to install border markers with countries where there are resolutions already, but in difficult areas with Thailand, the installation of border markers will be done later.

Khieu Kanharith said: “In the past, we installed border markers in easier areas first, wherever we (agree to) determine as the border division, we complete these areas first. For difficult areas, we keep them last, this is just like the case with Vietnam also. Therefore, wherever we install (border posts), we stake them, at other areas, we discuss about them. If we cannot decide during the discussions, we can go the International Court of Justice and such…”

Following the conclusion of a 3-decade war in Cambodia, Cambodia is now facing with unending border disputes with neighboring countries, such as Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Most of the time, reports indicated Cambodia’s borders have been encroached by several kilometers by these countries. Border issues have turned into a discussion topic among Cambodian politicians, however, there has never been any final resolution to this issue.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I read about border issue and the lose of Cambodian temples, I just don't feel good. I feel angry that Cambodian keep losing their land, temple...

The leader do not care about the issue or what? They only care about how to get elected again. They focus only on people who will vote for them to be in power.

Every very often, if not everyday, prime minister, officer, politcian argue with each other (their Cambodian peeople). Why don't they talk harder with the neighboring country about the issue that related to the border.

Cambodian governemnt is ignoring too much about border issue. I think they will never talk about it at all if reports do not ask them. What they are doing about the border issue, no body seem to know at all.

Anonymous said...

It makes me so mad to hear that Ta Moan Temple is under Thai occupancy. What is the Cambodian government planning to do about this matter? I mean, according to the villagers that live in the area said that the temple is under occupation by Thailand about three years ago, how long does it take for the government to solve this issue. Unless they pretend to be blind and deaf by the color of money.