Koh Tral on the table
Unfortunately The Diplomat closed down the interesting discussion on the Kos Tral issue (see “Cambodia’s Impossible Dream: Koh Tral“.) There are several comments with different arguments in different tones. My last comment was not published, so I do it here in my own home. I have to clarify that my observations are not along with any political party at all and I understand that any position can be used for political purposes, but sovereignty cannot be an object of political interests, although it is a historical fact in different countries and regions.
My observations are based in a physical evidence: Koh Tral or Phu Quoc is inside the interior Cambodian sea, 10 miles far from any Cambodian coastline. One commenter, answering my observation in The Diplomat to the Mudrick’s article, says:
I haven’t heard of any international law giving the right to claim land from geography. The concept of ancestral (Khmer) land is not a valid reason to claim sovereignty neither in modern law.
If it were true, Thailand has not the right to claim for the 40 kilometers squares around the Preah Vehear Temple and any argument by Thailand to such claim is based in geographical statements. However, the International Court of Justice let that claim to a bilateral agreement with Cambodia that still to be done.
It is true that the argument of ancestral Khmer land is not legally valid to any territorial claim. When I say “remember that historically Cambodia is first in the region than Vietnam & Thailand and any Viet & Thai territorial claim will be always over the ancestral Khmer land,” I meant that any Vietnamese or Thai sovereignty over ancestral Khmer land – although legal by now – must start from that point: it was gained to the Khmer people. Therefore, Vietnam or Thailand need to produce much more evidences of how they came to posses those territories than Cambodia. Weather Vietnam is the actual owner of Koh Tral or Phu Quoc, we must start from the point that it was a Khmer possession in the time. Politicians can say whatever they want. Normally politicians talk without connecting their brains, especially when they work in embassies. But history is science.
Who can deny that Koh Tral is inside the interior Cambodian sea? Try…
The argument of population can have many objections too. Mudrick suggests that there is a continues Vietnamese presence on the land for decades:
The 1989 census found the Khmer population of the island to be approximately 300 (less than 1 percent of the total). Khmers on the island today estimate that approximately 200 Khmer families call Koh Tral home (Jeff Mudrick, 2014)
This fact does not mean Cambodia could not claim sovereignty over Koh Tral, because history teaches us that there has been a program of Vietnamization of Cambodia during the last centuries and the planting of Vietnamese ethnics in Cambodia. It puts a question mark over how the majority of Vietnamese ethnic on Koh Tral came to populate the land.
Now well, in the case Koh Tral becomes a Cambodian island, it might compromise to respect the current population as any other ethnic in Cambodia, as well as there are several Khmer towns in Kampuchea Krom that the Vietnamese State must respect in their identities as full righted Vietnamese citizens.
As for any possible claim, let us make this resume:
- The International Court of Justice is not the only international platform to make a territorial claim, as Vietnam does not accept the ruling of such Tribunal. However, Vietnam belongs to the international community and it is enough. If a State makes a territorial claim, it is considered already by the international community as that: a claim.
- A territorial claim cannot be used as political reasons. Parties, leaders, ideologies pass and change through history: a territory and its people remain.
- A possible Cambodian claim over Koh Tral would take several decades to reach any real agreement, but every generation can apport to the development of the process.
- History teaches that borders move throughout the centuries, so we cannot say this is a closed case or an “impossible Cambodian dream.”