Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Google Maps and Google Earth instantly deliver geographical information from anywhere on Earth. But what happens when this trusted source dishes out bad data in a politically sensitive location? One Google map mistake at Preah Vihear temple is now in the news in Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, China, Australia, the USA and other places.
Google Map Mistake at Preah Vihear Temple
The Cambodian government registered a formal complaint with Google because a critical border shown with its neighbor Thailand is simply wrong. In fact, the images shown are more than 100 years out of date.
The issue is particularly sensitive because it involves one of Cambodia’s most culturally important sacred sites, Preah Vihear. In 2008, UNESCO recognized Preah Vihear as a “World Heritage Site” with “outstanding universal value” to our planet’s heritage. Thailand has unfortunately rejected Cambodia’s legal ownership of the temple and at least seven Thai and Cambodian soldiers have been killed in skirmishes there in the past two years.
The magnificent mountaintop shrine was built by Cambodia’s Khmer kings beginning in the 11th century. Following warfare in the 15th century, Thailand claimed the temple as its own. In the 20th century the tables turned again, reverting the temple to Cambodian ownership, yet unrest continues. While Thailand presently has more military force, the law has a different view; the International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia on June 15, 1962.
Our modern story begins on March 26, 1907, when King Chulalongkorn or Rama V of Siam (now Thailand) ceded Preah Vihear and other Khmer lands back to Cambodia in exchange for other territory. As a French protectorate, all mapping related to this transfer was carefully done by engineers with the Service Géographique de l’Indochine. Thailand, however, grew unhappy with the exchange and went so far as to reoccupy the temple just as Cambodia gained independence from France in 1953 under the leadership of Norodom Sihanouk.
Before independence, all local mapping was done by France’s Service Géographique de l’Indochine, but Sihanouk clearly saw that his nation needed its own map service. At the time, Cambodia had one qualified Geographical Engineer (Ingénieur Géographe) who Sihanouk charged with establishing the Khmer Geographic Service (Service Géographique Khmer) under the auspices of the Khmer National Armed Forces (Force Armée Nationale Khmère). For years, the agency worked closely with French and US Army mapping services ensuring that their work met world standards. By 1955, the agency finished compiling the national mapping archive and had completely transferred mapping responsibilities from the French government in Saigon to Cambodia.
On Sihanouk’s orders, the Khmer Geographic Service was also assembling evidence to prove ownership of the disputed border temple of Preah Vihear. The Cambodian people were rewarded with a decisive victory when the International Court of Justice decided in their favor on June 15, 1962, clearly establishing Cambodian ownership of the temple.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has continued Cambodia’s struggle to maintain its rightful control of Preah Vihear. All of the original court documents are available for examination on the International Court of Justice. Google’s world class standing in the information community suggests that they will correct this error soon.
Aricle by Kent Davis
PDF Download in Khmer
This 13 page document in Khmer includes many maps, photos and diagrams that will be helpful to non-Khmer readers. The author, Mr. Chhaysidhy San, also presents a series of links to primary materials, including transcripts of the court case (in English and French) on page 8. [Preah Vihear in Khmer PDF 800k]
Other Useful Links on Preah Vihear Temple
Preah-Vihear.net – Useful maps and historical information
Google Maps Link to Preah Vihear – +14° 23′ 46.00″, +104° 40′ 49.00″