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Different views of history: Shades of irredentism along the Laos–Cambodia border

  • Ian G. Baird

Abstract

The administrative boundary between Laos and Cambodia is amongst the least studied international borders in Southeast Asia. Since Laos and Cambodia became independent in 1953–54, relatively minor but sustained tensions have characterised border relations. An important reason for disagreements is irredentist feelings. Some ethnic Lao in both Laos and Cambodia believe that part of northeastern Cambodia should be added to Laos, while some ethnic Khmer in Cambodia insist that their border should be extended to include part of southern Laos. Different emphases and framings of history have contributed to irredentism and the development of identities in relation to the border.

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20 He was also known as Chao Tham Phoui.

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30 However, it was not until 2 July 1923 that Dak Lak became an official province of Annam (Hickey, Sons of the mountains).

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32 Paul Beau, Rattachment au Cambodge de la province de Stung Treng de fintant du Laos – arrete de 6 Dec. 1904 (1904–1905), 24 Juin 1904, Hanoi, CAOM Indochine 15104.

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35 In 1885, King Norodom requested the aid of the French to delineate Melouprey and Xelamphao (Tonle Repou), which he claimed for Cambodia, the latter being the name of the river that presently marks the Laos–Cambodia border west of the Mekong River (Breazeale, ‘The integration of the Lao states into the Thai kingdom’).

36 It reverted to being part of Stung Treng Province in 1930, at which time Veun Say became a district (Bitard, Pierre, ‘Carte ethnolinguistique de la région de Voeunsai et les cultes agraires des Kha Braou (Cambodge)’, Bulletin de la Societé des Étude Indochinoises, 27, 1 (1952): 18).

37 Klein, ‘Monographie du Khet de Moulapoumok’.

38 Anonymous, , ‘Monographie de la Province de Stung Treng’, Bulletin de la Societé des Études Indochinoises de Saigon, 64 (1913): 332.

39 Breazeale, ‘Laos mapped by treaty and decree, 1895–1907’.

40 Peyrabere, L., Chau Tham Phouei, Stung Treng, 1906, ANC RSC 20558.

41 Breazeale, ibid.

42 Various interviews, Ratanakiri and Stung Treng Provinces, personal communication, 2007–08.

43 Chao Singto Na Champassak, personal communication, 2008.

44 Ibid., July 2008.

45 Chao Nang Kinkham, personal communication, May 2008.

46 Rathie, , ‘Laos-Cambodia relations’; The Buddhist Institute: A short history, ed. Edwards, Penny (Phnom Penh: The Buddhist Institute, 2005).

47 Evans, A short history of Laos.

48 Rathie, ‘Laos-Cambodia relations’.

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53 Baird, ‘Various forms of colonialism’.

54 Meyer, ‘Les nouvelles provinces: Ratanakiri – Mondolkiri’.

55 Personal communication, Stung Treng Town, May 2008.

58 Personal communication, Veun Say and Stung Treng Town, Apr.–May 2008.

59 Personal communication, Veun Say, Apr. 2008.

60 Escoffier, Claire F., ‘Les Lao au Cambodge: Une cohabitation harmonieuse?’, Lan Xang Heritage Journal, 2, 3 (1997): 82124.

61 Meyer, ‘Les nouvelles provinces: Ratanakiri – Mondolkiri’.

62 Grabowsky, ‘The Thai and Lao ethnic minorities in Cambodia’.

63 Personal communication, Surrey, Canada, July 2008.

64 Kiernan, Ben, How Pol Pot came to power (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985); Norodom Sihanouk, (as related to Wilfred Burchett), My war with the CIA. The memoirs of Prince Norodom Sihanouk (London, Baltimore and Victoria: Penguin Books, 1973).

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66 Sarin Chhak, ‘Le trace de la frontière Cambodgienne avec le Laos et le Sud-Vietnam’ (Ph.D. diss., Université de Paris, Paris, 1964).

67 Burchett, The Second Indochina war: Cambodia and Laos, p. 76.

68 Chanda, Nayan, Brother enemy: The war after the war (San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovannovich, 1986).

69 Rathie, ‘Laos-Cambodia relations’, no page number.

71 Time Magazine, ‘The embattled prince’, 21 Jan. 1966.

72 Rathie, ‘Laos-Cambodia relations’, no page number.

74 Chan Métrei, ‘Laos expansionist’, Kambuja, 3rd Year - No. 33, 15 Dec. 1967; Caldwell and Tan, Cambodia in the Southeast Asian war.

75 Chan Métrei, ‘Laos expansionist’, p. 1; Rathie, ‘Laos-Cambodia relations’, no page number.

76 Chan Métrei, ‘Laos Expansionist’, p. 1; Rathie, ‘Laos-Cambodia relations’, no page number.

77 In late February 1964, Sihanouk's adviser, Son Sann, made an unsuccessful visit to Vientiane seeking advance agreement to a RLG-RGC joint communiqué recognising Cambodia's borders. While staying in Vientiane, Son Sann spoke with Chao Souk Vongsak who forwarded the RGC's request to the Pathet Lao leaders in Sam Neua. Souphanouvong chose to immediately recognise Cambodia's border with Laos (Rathie, ‘Laos-Cambodia relations’, no page number). The approval was probably designed to maintain good relations with Sihanouk, and thus make it easier for the North Vietnamese to continue to use the Ho Chi Minh and Sihanouk Trails to transport soldiers and supplies across northeastern Cambodia and into South Vietnam, and also maintain ‘sanctuary’ bases in Ratanakiri Province.

78 Rathie, ‘Laos-Cambodia relations’, no page number.

79 Editorial - ‘The definition of our frontiers: correction by Samdech Head of State to Nosithondone (Vientiane) Mr. Kham Beng’, Kambuja, Apr. 1969, pp. 24–5.

80 Chandler, David P., The tragedy of Cambodian history: Politics, war, and revolution since 1945 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991).

81 Sutsakhan, Sak, The Khmer Republic at war and the final collapse (Washington, DC: Indochina Monographs, 1978).

82 Whitaker, D.P., Heimann, J.M., MacDonald, J.E., Martindale, K.W., Shinn, R.-S. and Townsend, C., Area handbook for the Khmer Republic (Cambodia) (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1973).

83 Short, Pol Pot, p. 277.

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87 Escoffier, ‘Les Lao au Cambodge: une cohabitation harmonieuse?’, p. 97.

88 Short, Pol Pot, p. 303.

89 Rathie, ‘Laos-Cambodia relations’, no page number.

90 Sarin Chhak, Le trace de la frontière Cambodgienne avec le Laos et le Sud-Vietnam.

91 Kiernan, How Pol Pot came to power, p. 320.

92 Various interviews, Attapeu and Champasak Provinces, Laos; personal communication, 2007–08.

93 Baird, ‘Various forms of colonialism’.

94 Voice of America, ‘Cambodia / Laos’; radio report by Kay Johnson, Phnom Penh, 25 Apr. 2000.

95 Kyodo News, ‘Laos wants to settle border dispute with Cambodia’, 27 July 1999.

96 Kyodo News, ‘Sihanouk chairs meeting on Cambodian border issues in Beijing’, 11 May 2005.

97 Kyodo News, ‘Laos wants to settle border dispute with Cambodia’, 27 July 1999.

98 Voice of America, ‘Cambodia / Laos’.

99 Kyodo World News Service, ‘Cambodia – Laos to begin border marking’, 1 June 2000.

100 Kingdom of Cambodia Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Bulletin, Sixth meeting of Laos-Cambodia joint commission, 2 Jan. 2003.

101 Norodom Sihanouk, Declaration of Norodom Sihanouk, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, 27 Feb. 2003.

102 Sean Péngsè, Cambodia Border Committee President's Letter to Samdeck Krom Preah, 1 Apr. 2004, Comité des Frontières du Cambodge / Cambodia's Border Committee, No. 43.

103 Refer to http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/bulletindetail.php?contentid=46, last accessed on 3 Feb. 2009.

104 Vientiane Times, ‘Laos, Cambodia praise development achievements’, 31 Mar. 2005.

105 Kyodo News, ‘Sihanouk chairs meeting on Cambodian border issues in Beijing’, 11 May 2005.

106 Ibid.

107 Ibid.

108 Ibid.

109 Sean Péngsè, ‘Statement of the Cambodia Border Committee’, Cambodia Border Committee, 20 May 2005.

110 Also frequently spelt Xekong in Laos.

111 Personal communication, Attapeu Town, Apr. 2008.

112 Ibid.

113 Ibid.

114 Personal communication, Phon Sa-at Village, Khong District, Champasak Province, Apr. 2005.

115 Phnom Penh Post, ‘Lao military agrees to leave Cambodian soil’, 11–24 Mar. 2005.

116 Personal communication, Government officials, Taveng District Town, Apr. 2007.

117 The author thanks one of the anonymous reviewers for this observation.

118 Personal communication, Government officials, Taveng District Town, Apr. 2007.

119 Personal communication, Cambodian Border Policeman, Taveng District Town, Apr. 2007.

120 He is the son of the former right-wing Lao Prime Minister, Katay Don Sasorith, who was from southern Laos.

121 Personal communication, Dr Mongkhol Sasorith, Feb. 2007.

122 Ibid.

123 Ibid.

124 Ibid.

125 Personal communication, Stung Treng provincial government official, Stung Treng Town, May 2008.

126 Personal communication., Dr Mongkhol Sasorith, Feb. 2007.

127 See, for example, Yun Samean, Funcinpec bid for new ministry denied by PM, Cambodia Daily, 19 Dec. 2005.

128 Vietnam News, VN, Laos, Cambodia map out border zones in HCMC, 16 June 2007.

129 It is noteworthy that some ethnic Khmer in France who are members of the Cambodia Border Committee believe that the Economic Development Triangle initiated by Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in 1999 is ‘nothing but a new tool introduced by the secular colonialist and expansionist policy of Vietnam’ (Masavang Sean, Administrator, Cambodia Border Committee, 13 Mar. 2006).

130 Kay Kimsong, ‘A defining moment draws near’, Phnom Penh Post, 30 May–12 June 2008.

131 International Rivers, ‘Power surge: The impacts of rapid dam development in Laos’ (Berkeley, CA: International Rivers, 2008).

132 Nette, Andrew, ‘South-east Asia: Mekong Commission defends itself against critics’, International Press Service, 2 May 2008; Sturrock, Tim, ‘Experts: Lao dams require greater study’, Cambodia Daily, 31 May–1 June 2008.

133 Wangpattana, Anurak, ‘Dams in the Sekong basin: Environmental overviews fail to see Cambodia’, Watershed, 12, 2 (2008): 20–4.; Strangio, Sebastan and Sokheng, Vong, ‘Lao dams may cast long shadow downstream’, Phnom Penh Post, 12 June 2008.

134 Écoles Sans Frontières, beum katoun piset samlap Khveng Champasak [Special cartoon book for Champasak Province](In Lao) (Vientiane: ESF, 1993), p. 8.

135 Personal communication, Attapeu Town, Apr. 2008.

136 Personal communication, Ratanakiri and Stung Treng Provinces, 1995–2008.

137 Personal communication, Veun Say Village, Veun Say District, Ratanakiri Province, Apr. 2000.

138 Grabowsky, ‘The Thai and Lao minorities in Cambodia’, p. 210.

139 Ibid., p. 212.; Escoffier, ‘Les Lao au Cambodge: une cohabitation harmonieuse?’, p. 96.

140 Personal communication, Stung Treng Town, May 2008.

141 Various interviews, Ratanakiri Province and Champasak Province, personal communication, 2008; Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri were established as provinces after Cambodia gained independence in 1953–54 (Meyer, Charles, ‘Les nouvelles provinces: Ratanakiri – Mondolkiri’, Revue Monde en Développement, 28 (1979): 682–90).

142 Personal communication, Stung Treng Town, May 2008.

143 Ibid.

144 Ibid.

145 Evans, A short history of Laos, p. 7.

146 Vickery, Michael, ‘What and where was Chenla?’, in Recherches nouvelles sur le Cambodge, ed. Bizot, Francois (Paris: École française d'Extrême-Orient, 1994), pp. 197212.

147 Michael Vickery, personal communication, 20 Oct. 2008.

148 Sarin Chhak, ‘Le trace de la frontière Cambodgienne avec le Laos et le Sud-Vietnam’.

149 Personal communication, Ratanakiri Province, May 2008.

150 Ibid.; this perception may also be related to the belief, founded or unfounded, that the Vietnamese moved border markers along the Vietnam–northeastern Cambodia border in their favour in the 1950s. Many Khmer apparently believe that the Vietnamese are encouraging the Lao to do the same (Martin Rathie, personal communication, 2008).

151 The author is indebted to one of the anonymous reviewers for this observation.

152 Baird, Ian G., ‘Controlling the margins: Nature conservation and state power in northeastern Cambodia’, in Development and dominion: Indigenous peoples of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, ed. Bourdier, Frederic (Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2009).

153 Ibid.

154 Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Seuksa sangkhom [Social studies], grade 12 (Phnom Penh, 2005).

155 Ovesen, Jan and Trankell, Ing-Britt, ‘Foreigners and honorary Khmers: Ethnic minorities in Cambodia’, in Civilizing the margins. Southeast Asian government policies for the development of minorities, ed. Duncan, Christopher R. (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2004), pp. 241–70.

156 Refer to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfBDdsZC0as, last accessed on 3 Feb. 2009.

157 Personal communication, Stung Treng Town, 2004.

158 Short, Pol Pot, pp. 324–5.

159 Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA), ‘Why do Khmers in Stung Treng speak Lao?’, Nature and Life Bulletin (In Khmer), 72 (2005): 3.

160 Ibid.

161 Ibid.

162 That often means that they want their children to speak Lao, and they want to engage in certain Lao customs, but there is undoubtedly a wide range of views on what constitutes Lao-ness.

163 Ethnic groups and boundaries: The social organization of culture difference, ed. Frederick Barth (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969).

164 Jan Ovesen and Ing-Britt Trankell, ‘Foreigners and honorary Khmers: Ethnic minorities in Cambodia’.

Ian G. Baird is Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA. Correspondence in connection with this paper should be addressed to: . The author thanks Alberto Pérez-Pereiro for his assistance in translating some of the Khmer language written material referred to in this paper, and to Martin Rathie for providing a draft of his Ph.D. dissertation and for commenting on an early draft of this paper. The comments provided by two anonymous reviewers were useful, and greatly contributed to improving the article. Michael Vickery also provided some important supplemental information. The author takes responsibility for any deficiencies that may remain.

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Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
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