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  • Cambodia’s Border Conflict with Thailand
  • Pou Sothirak (bio)


This chapter examines the border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, which has been entrenched by the legacy of the past and the nationalism of the present. The dispute has led to a border conflict — a direct result of the domestic politics in both countries.1

On the Thai side, the dispute was ignited by a charge of treason by the Democrat Party and the royalist People Alliance for Democracy (PAD), also known as the “Yellow Shirts”, against successive pro-Thaksin governments for losing Thai territory to Cambodia.2 As a result, there were street protests in Bangkok between the rival protagonists, setting a series of military confrontations between the two countries in motion. On its part, Cambodia has regarded the Thai military build-up at the border as a direct national security threat and has embarked on mobilizing national support for the exercise of its legitimate right to defend its sovereignty from what it considers deliberate acts of aggression by Thailand.

The border dispute stirred up widespread nationalistic sentiment and invoked bitter hostility on both sides. Military stand-offs flared up, intermittently, to the brink of war, damaging not only the bilateral relations, but also threatening the unity of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and affecting the regional body’s capacity to form a community by 2015.3 [End Page 87]

This chapter describes the dispute against a backdrop of historical animosity and nationalistic tensions between Cambodia and Thailand. It starts with a background section dealing with the origins of the border dispute and its evolution from the early 1900s up to the present day. The main section of this chapter depicts the different approaches each country has taken to manage the dispute and the conditions under which a possible resolution could materialize. The final section deals with factors that have shaped and influenced the different positions taken by both Cambodia and Thailand.

Scope of the Dispute

The boundary dispute between Cambodia and Thailand concerns the shared land border which separates both countries and stretches approximately 499 miles.4 Although the land border dispute centres on the unfinished process of demarcating the borderline by the Joint Border Commission (JBC),5 the most contentious area is a piece of land, of about 4.6 square kilometres, surrounding the Temple of Preah Vihear. Accordingly, both countries maintain:

  • • Cambodia only recognizes the Annex I Map, drawn up by France under the 1904 and 1907 Franco-Siamese Treaties, which indicates a clear boundary line between the two countries.6

  • • Thailand relies on a unilaterally produced map, unveiled at the World Heritage Session in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2007, which shows the area of land claimed by Thailand.7


The origins of the border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand can be traced back to more than a century. The border dispute should be understood in two phases: the period between the early 1900s and a 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the period between the 2006 military coup in Thailand and the present day.

In the earlier phase of the dispute, the border tension culminated in arbitration at the ICJ, which ruled in 1962 that, “the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia”.8 The ICJ came to its decision after reviewing the 1904 Convention and the 1907 boundary treaty between France (then ruler of Cambodia) and Siam (Thailand), and the work of the mixed Franco-Siamese Commission for the delimitation of the border, including maps prepared by the same commission.9 [End Page 88]

The whole work of delimitation in the sector of Dangrek, in which Preah Vihear is situated, had been accomplished by the end of January 1907; thus establishing the exact borderline around that area.10 Thereafter, a series of eleven maps, including the Annex I Map covering the border adjacent to the Temple of Preah Vihear, were completed by late autumn 1907, demarcating a large part of the frontier between French Indochina and Siam. These maps were printed by a well-known French cartographical company called H. Barrère and were communicated to the Siamese government in 1908...