Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sovereignty Dispute Over Koh Tral

Koh Tral map

Koh Tral natural beach

By Khmer Wathanakam

Koh Tral is a beautiful natural island located just 12 km from Cambodian coastline and 50 km from Vietnam's.  Koh Tral has land area 574 square km and population about 85,000 in compared with Singapore with 750 square km and population about 5 million.  Although Koh Tral never have been controlled by Khmer government at least from French colonial time, all Khmer leaders in the past still claimed it as part of Khmer territory except from 1979 until today when the current government was installed by Vietnam to rule Cambodia as its proxy power officially recognized Koh Tral as part of Vietnam through an illegal 1982 border treaty and a controversial 2005 additional border treaty.  Today as Khmer won the second case over a promontory of Phreas Vihea Temple from Thailand in the international court, a loss of Koh Tral has become another hot topic of debate though Hun Sen has tried to whitewash it as his fault.  Based on history and physical location of Koh Tral, it clearly belongs to Cambodia.  Thus, what the current Khmer leaders should do for a loss of this precious gem?

Albeit Koh Tral history was not well documented in Khmer history, we did find some documents related to it.  In 1856 King Ang Duong, the most respectful Khmer King after Angkor Era, informed French envoys in Bangkok intended to yield Koh Tral to France in exchange for military alliance to thwart a threat from Vietnam.  But France which had already eyed on its preys of the whole Cambodia and Laos had no reason to respond with King Ang Duong's small gift.  And in his previous letter to Napoleon III, King Ang Duong warned France to stay away from Khmer territory including Koh Tral which had been controlled by Vietnam for several decades.  In 1939, Governor General Jules Bravie had drawn a line to delimit administration boundaries: north of the line were placed under Cambodian protectorate; south of the line were managed by Cochin-China Colony.  Based on Bravie's line, Koh Tral was under Vietnamese protectorate; however, Bravie decision only addressed police and administrative tasks, no sovereignty decision had been made.  After Cambodian independence in 1953, a sovereign dispute over Koh Tral was raised since there was no colonial decision on the island's fate.  In 1957, Sihanouk referred to Lon Nol, a defense minister, to protect Khmer islands including Koh Tral.  In similar note, King Surrarit reaffirmed that Cambodia had a historical right over Koh Tral.  In 1972 the Khmer Republic reiterated that Khmer had sovereignty over Koh Tral and its surrounded water, and it warned all oil exploring companies to stay away from that area.

During the French war with Vietminh in the North, Chinese Nationalist had an alliance with the French to fight the Communist.  In 1949, when the Communist took over China, the French allowed a Nationalist General Huang Chich moved 33,000 troops from Hainan Province to station in Koh Tral before transferred to Taiwan  in 1953.  During Vietnam War, Koh Tral became the largest prison camp for the South Vietnamese Government.  On May 1, 1975, Democratic Kampuchea troops raided and took over Koh Tral, but quickly defeated by more powerful Vietnamese troops.  The DK troops raid over Koh Tral is the first of a series incursion and counter-incursions that escalated to Vietnamese full scale invasion on January 7, 1979 to install their satellite regime to rule Cambodia until today.  In 1982, Vietnam forced its Cambodian subservient regime--a predecessor of the current regime-- to sign a border agreement that recognized Koh Tral as part of Vietnam until today.  And Hun Sen has become the first Khmer leader to recognize Koh Tral as Vietnam's property.

Since the sovereign status of Koh Tral left undecided by the French Colonist, Cambodia still has the right to claim its sovereignty over Koh Tral, and all Khmer leaders from the past--royalists,  republicans, and Communists firmly maintained Koh Tral as a Khmer's property except the current leader, Hun Sen.  Based on physical location and historical facts of Koh Tral, Cambodia still has a chance to reclaim Koh Tral by using the same legal procedure as the Preas Vihear Temple case.  Though the probability to win the case is slimmer than Preas Vihear, if Khmer Leaders have a political will they can do it.  In recent election campaign, the Cambodian National rescue Party (CNRP) pledged to all Khmer people that if it won an election, it would reclaim Koh Tral through peaceful and legal means.  This is the right thing that all Khmer leaders should do no matter what political ideology they adhered since individual country's foreign policy is guided by its national interest.  For instances, Spain still wants to reclaim Gibraltar from the 300 years British rule on a promontory enclave in its Mediterranean coast.  Argentina still claims its sovereignty over Falkland Island where the British has ruled on it as its crown prince colony since1840.  In 1982, Argentine military regime sent its troops to recapture Falkland Island, but Argentine Troops were crushed by the British superior navy and air forces.  Since then, Argentina has pursued diplomatic and legal actions against the British over the Falkland Island.

Albeit Cambodia has no match with Vietnam militarily, diplomatic and legal means are still the best option for Cambodia to deal with Vietnam over Koh Tral as compared with it has done with Thailand over a promontory of Preas Vihear Temple if Hun Sen has a good faith to do so as he has done with Thailand.  As a leader of a sovereign and independent nation, Hun Sen has to place Khmer interest above every thing as a conventional rule of individual country's foreign policy.  If Hun Sen can't do that, he should voluntarily and peacefully resign.  Don't say, " I has done nothing wrong." We believe that Hun Sen has had enough answers from the people so far. 

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