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The Latest on Preah Vihear and Prasat Ta Moan Thom 1.2

The border conflict over the Preah Vihear temple has started to spread, like a cancer that is metastasizing. New nodes pop up, and those who wish to see the whole thing just go away are likely to be disappointed. Instead, border conflicts – the raison d’être and proof of the nation – state’s value in an era when domestic prosperity is declining or nowhere to be found – are likely to merely continue. Can I make a rash prediction? The cancer will go into remission sometime in the next 6 weeks, but will re-emerge within 3 years.

As I mentioned the other day, Cambodia has accused the Thai military of invading more Cambodian territory, this time at Prasat Ta Moan Thom, the name of which translates to The Larger Temple of Grandfather Chicken. (Plea for help – I am assuming that Ta Moan is a neak ta, but I’m not familiar with him – anyone want to enlighten us?) Vittorio Roveda’s astonishingly wonderful book on Angkorean temples, Images of the Gods, has this to say about the temple, but no explanation of the name:

Ta Muen Thom [Thai transliteration]
11th Century

The temple…was built along the ancient road passing through the Dangrek Range to unite Angkor with Phimai. It is some 35km south of Prakhorn Chai and a few metres from the present-day Thai-Cambodian border. The Khmer Rouge during the 1980s and heavy pillaging since have contributed to its almost total destruction. The main tower… was erected on a sandstone outcrop whose form was suggestive of a linga…. Little remains of the decorative elements. The best patterns at the base of the north side of the central sanctuary were probably carved during the second half of the 12th century, along with dvarapalas and devatas…. On one lintel, the figure sits on a kala with his hands in the yogasana position, perhaps a protective deity, although looking like a Buddha.

A number of sculptural elements, particularly lintels, have been moved to museums for safety and restoration. (p. 466)

It remains unclear to me exactly what is going on here. The temple is very clearly inside of Cambodian territory (check out an image from google maps here); I’m not confused about that. What I am confused about is which side is stirring the turd here, as my great aunt might have said. The Cambodian government claims that the Thai military has just now invaded the temple, while the Thai side claims that it has had military stationed there for many years. Either way, asking them to leave seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag has made what also seems to be a reasonable proposal – allow the military to negotiate withdrawal from the Preah Vihear temple. Why is this reasonable? Because the military is not the main provocateur here – the PAD is. The soldiers are getting along pretty well, considering that their jobs are to intimidate the hell out of each other until things get hot enough that they have to start shooting.

Meanwhile, AlisoninCambodia has posted a picture of the outside of the Thai Embassy in Cambodia, in which the sidewalk is covered with police and fire trucks. If the 2003 riots against Thai business interests were effected with the connivance of the government, that doesn’t appear to be in the cards this time.

Mongkol has posted about the cyber-nationalists whose conversations are, for the most part, either tedious or hilarious, depending on how altered you are when you read them. He gets quoted in the Phnom Penh Post (which has just gone daily. But no rss feed yet, which means I won’t follow it as closely as I’d like – get on that, folks!).

update: moments after posting this, word came across the wires (I suppose that should be intertubes) that Thai troops and Cambodian troops have all returned to their original positions, withdrawing from their near-engagement at the Larger and Smaller Grandfather Chicken temples (Prasat Ta Moan Thom and Prasat Ta Moan Touch). [AFP, via DAS]

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