Home > Local News > Cambodian anger over temple not exploding, for now

Cambodian anger over temple not exploding, for now

(Reuters)
Generations of Cambodians have fretted over what they see as the
grabbing of land by voracious neighbors, but recent clashes over
territory on the Thai border have stirred little outrage in the
Cambodian capital.


Part of the reason appears to
be the Cambodian government does not want public anger getting out of
hand while it appeals to the United Nations for help in sorting out the
dispute with Thailand over the 11th century Preah Vihear temple on the northern border with Thailand.

The
Thai flag was fluttering over a promenade along the banks of the Tonle
Sap river in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, along with those of a host of other
countries, in a colorful display of the once-isolated country’s longing
for international ties.

News of
the border clashes featured in the media, with television repeatedly
showing clips of some minor damage to the temple from Thai shelling.
But there was no sign of a repeat of events in 2003, when a crowd
enraged by a perceived slight on their country’s honor ransacked the
Thai embassy.

“The Thais want to take our land,” said a city taxi driver. “The Thais on that side and the Vietnamese on the other.”

The
ancient Cambodian, or Khmer, empire covered much of mainland southeast
Asia and Preah Vihear, or Khao Phra Viharn as it is known in Thailand,
is one of the Khmer ruins that dot central Thailand, southern Laos and
Cambodia.

No one is quite sure why
the Khmer empire, with its center at Angkor, went into decline, but
modern Cambodians feel as if for centuries they have been squeezed
between their much more populous neighbors to the west and east.

But for now, it would seem anger over Preah Vihear will remain passive.

“Life
goes on and Cambodians are used to this kind of thing happening on the
border,” said Hang Chaya of the Khmer Institute of Democracy think
tank. “The feeling among the public is strong, they’re just not
expressing it.”

“NUMBED ANGER”

Opposition
politicians have long said territorial encroachment has been going on
along the Vietnamese border, but the government of Prime Minister Hun
Sen, who has had good relations with Vietnam since he broke with the
Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, is seen as having done little about it.

Letting
public outrage spin out of control about the Thai border could open the
government to renewed criticism about what the opposition says has been
inaction on the Vietnamese border.

“The government needs to be careful,” said Hang Chaya. “Once the smoke clears, it will be back to political point-scoring.”

Police stopped an attempt to protest outside the Thai embassy on Monday.

Seng
Theary, who runs the Center for Cambodian Civic Education, said
political interests had fueled the anger that led to the attack on the
Thai embassy in 2003, which occurred in the run-up to a Cambodian
election.


This time, Cambodian politicians had not used
the sort of rhetoric that inflamed fury, while ordinary people, though
angry, were beset with problems in their day-to-day lives in one of the
region’s poorest countries.

“It’s a numbed anger,” she said. “We’re living with a series of problems, this is just another one.”

Phnom Penh residents said Cambodia should fight to keep its land. But not now.

“It’s
our land, we’re really angry, but our government is doing things
peacefully, going through the U.N. so now we’re waiting for the U.N. to
act,” said Sum Roathmony, sitting on a bench in a city park, reading a
newspaper about the trouble.

Source: Reuters
Editing by Jason Szep and Ron Popeski

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Categories: Local News
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