June 2011

 

Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Dialogue Can Build Understanding,
Trust and Peace among Thais and Cambodians

Pornpimon Ponprom

 


Pornpimon Ponprom, left, and Siriporn Pengjan, right—SOP alumni
from Thailand—gather in May in Bangkok with SOP alumni
Keo Vichith, center, and ICF staff member Paddy Noble, seated,
from Cambodia to discuss faith and dialogue as resources for
creating peace between the two neighboring countries

It is well known that the Thai-Cambodian border dispute has lasted for quite a long time. It has caused suffering due to the loss of lives and damage to houses, temples and other property. Above all, it has destroyed the trust and friendship between the two nations.

As the heads of state meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in early May failed to resolve the ongoing border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia, senior Buddhist and other religious leaders from both countries met in Bangkok on May 31, 2011, to forge collaborative efforts for peace and to issue a joint statement on the role of religious communities in resolving conflict and advancing peace.

The meeting Intra-Buddhist and Interfaith Dialogue on Peace among Thais and Cambodians was organized by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, Religions for Peace Interreligious Council of Thailand, Interfaith Cooperation Forum and the Mahidol University Research Center for Peacebuilding.

The meeting was organized in cooperation with the Religions for Peace-affiliated Interreligious Council of Cambodia and consisted of a circle of dialogue among Thai and Cambodian religious leaders, which included Cambodian Buddhist and Christian leaders and Thai senior Buddhist monks and Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh leaders, as well as local people from the conflict areas and concerned persons. A total of 131 people attended the meeting.

How can the process of dialogue be useful, however?

Through the process of deep listening in dialogue, people are able to have a chance to learn different feelings, desires and rationales and may grow and experience the commonality of human beings’ needs and sense of security. Hopefully, dialogue may change the feelings of suspicion, bias and lack of trust into better and mutual understanding.

We believe that the religious and spiritual dimension can play a vital role for peace through the process of dialogue. Dialogue is not simply bilateral talks but consists essentially of deep listening through which people can translate the teachings of their own faith into practice with loving kindness and empathy without prejudgment.

My hometown is in Surin Province in northeast Thailand. From when I was born until now, I feel that I am Thai and also I am Khmer because my hometown includes this ethnic group who live in Thailand near the conflict area at the Thai-Cambodian border. I am proud of the Khmer ethnic group in Thailand because I have the same basic rights as other Thais in other parts of the country.

My parents and grandparents told me about the good relationship between people from both sides and how they exchanged food at the border. They also wanted to visit the Khmer people in Cambodia because they wanted to know whether Khmer people are the same as Thai people or not. I too would like to know and learn about the way of life of the Khmer people in Cambodia as well.

In 2010, I had a chance to visit Cambodia many times. I learned much about Cambodia, and it is different from the views in my imagination. Many indigenous people, for instance, live in Cambodia, not only Khmer people. Most Thai people believe that there are only Khmer people in Cambodia. Most people have a similar view about Thailand: they think that there are only Thai people in the country. In general, people don’t think much about the diversity of people in each country. This perception is because the governments of each country use nationalism to sell to the people the feeling that there is only one nation in order to unite the people.

Nationalism and history are useful for the governments of each country to separate the people of the two countries and to create misunderstanding, prejudice and hate toward each other. Consequently, when the border conflict occurs numerous times over the course of many years, it destroys the trust and friendship between the two nations because the people know each other only from this history of hate, but the people of both countries haven’t truly known each other in real life and have no chance to learn, to listen to each other and hear the realities of their lives.

However, I believe that people in general, and religious communities in particular, through using dialogue may find alternative and possible solutions for peacebuilding. Intra-Buddhist and interfaith dialogue toward achieving Thai-Cambodia peace may be a starting point that may eventually lead to sustainable peace talks and constructive dialogue at the level of the two governments.

Peace in your heart, Peace in your hand


* Pornpimon Ponprom, a Buddhist, attended the School of Peace (SOP) conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) in Bangalore, India, in 2007. She is a staff member of the Mahidol University Research Center for Peacebuilding.