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Cambodia and Thailand: Is A Border Clash Brewing? By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0013/ 2015

The Thai media are currently reporting that Thailand and Cambodia have boosted their military presence around Preah Vihear after Cambodian authorities moved in equipment to begin work on a development project. We request your assessment of the following issues:

Q1. Do you think Cambodia’s efforts to excavate land in the area could be an intentional act of hostility towards Thailand?

ANSWER: It appears that the decision to begin excavation for a road along an illdefined border between Cambodia and Thailand was the result of initiatives by wellconnected local officials motivated to construct a casino in the area as a money earner.

Q2. Are tensions between Thailand and Cambodia common around the Chong Arn Ma temporary border pass?

ANSWER: The current situation over Cambodia’s land excavation activities is a notch above every day tensions involving poachers, smugglers and illegal border crossers. This area is separate from the Preah Vihear temple complex to the west. The issue in the present case is over an ill-defined border.

Q3. Do you think it is likely that the deployment of troops signals the beginning of renewed conflict in the area?

ANSWER: It appears that both sides have taken limited steps to reinforce their military presence in this area. There have been no signs yet of any major mobilization or influx of heavy weapons. The two sides continue to meet at border committee meetings and raise their concerns. It appears unlikely on the basis of current evidence that armed conflict will break out on the scale of preceding years.

Q4. In comparison to previous years, how would you describe current relations between Cambodia and Thailand?

ANSWER: Current bilateral relations between Cambodia and Thailand could be characterized as comparatively normal because both sides appear intent on managing minor everyday border incidents. Cambodia recognizes that a military led- government in Bangkok will be a much tougher opponent than a shaky coalition civilian government.

Q5. How has last year’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling changed border relations?

ANSWER: Last year’s ICJ ruling served to enhance the legitimacy of Cambodia’s claim to land surrounding Preah Vihear temple. But the status quo remains around the disputed area and progress on demarcating the much longer Thai-Cambodia border remains bogged down indefinitely.

(Article reprinted with the permission of the author Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor,The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra email:

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