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