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Lessons from Preah Vihear: Thailand, Cambodia, and the nature of low-intensity border conflicts

Lehren aus Preah Vihear: Thailand, Kambodscha und die Natur von Grenzkonflikten niedriger Intensität
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Wagener, Martin

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Abstract In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Preah Vihear temple lies within Cambodian territory. The status of the 4.6 kṃ of land surrounding the temple, however, remained unclear. When UNESCO declared the Preah Vihear temple a Cambodian World Heritage Site in July 2008, the situation was exacerbated. Several firefights between October 2008 and April/ May 2011 claimed at least 34 lives. The border dispute became a rollercoaster ride along the way: Talks between Thailand and Cambodia were regularly interrupted by exchanges of fire, only to be resumed a little later. This prevented a resolution of the conflict. The essay explores how Thailand's and Cambodia's conflict behavior can be explained from a first-image perspective. In doing so, uncovering the motives of both countries' prime ministers is crucial to understanding Bangkok's and Phnom Penh's actions in the border area. The paper argues that in low-intensity border conflicts, motivations are different from those underlying heads of government's behavior in high-intensity border conflicts. While this complicates an agreement on the Preah Vihear question, it also means that escalation to a manifest border war is very unlikely.
Keywords Thailand; Cambodia; developing country; Southeast Asia; border region; conflict resolution; conflict potential; conflict behavior; conflict structure; UNESCO
Classification International Relations, International Politics, Foreign Affairs, Development Policy; Peace and Conflict Research, International Conflicts, Security Policy
Method descriptive study
Free Keywords Cambodia; border conflict; Preah Vihear; Phra Viharn; Abhisit Vejjajiva; Hun Sen; realism; first image; statesman; 2000-2010
Document language English
Publication Year 2011
Page/Pages p. 27-59
Journal Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 30 (2011) 3
ISSN 1868-4882
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works