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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thailand, Cambodia agree to tourism for Preah Vihear once military tensions ease

Thailand, Cambodia agree to tourism for Preah Vihear once military tensions ease

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Thai Prime Minister Samak met with Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh over the dispute, agreeing to restart tourism to the ancient site after troops leave the area

AFP

Tourists stroll through the ruins at Preah Vihear. Officials hope to draw in more visitors.

THAILAND and Cambodia have agreed to cooperate to develop tourism at areas along the border once the military standoff is resolved, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said Monday.

The Thai premier made the statement in Bangkok after meeting with Cambodia's defence minister, Tea Banh, who is also a deputy prime minister.

"Territorial problems which cannot be resolved by now will be left for negotiations later," and a "middleman will be appointed to oversee promoting tourism with an aim to bring back tourists," Samak was quoted as saying by the Thai government news service, Thai News Agency (TNA). 

He added that the temple cannot be opened to tourism until all military personnel have withdrawn, according to TNA.

Monday's agreement to promote tourism at Preah Vihear temple came after Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart, Tej Bunnag, failed in talks August 19 and 20 to reach a resolution on the border dispute.

The two sides  agreed they would meet again in October pending a survey and demarcation of the area to be carried out by the Joint Border Commission.

I never thought this area would become popular with tourists.

On the Cambodian side, developing tourism at Preah Vihear could give a major boost for a corner of the country long notorious as the last region occupied by Khmer Rouge fighters.

Locals hopeful

The prospect of a tourism boom has enterprising Cambodians in the area licking their lips at the potential windfall.

Tep Savy, 43, an owner of a small guesthouse in Sa Em, about 25 kilometres from the base of the pitted mountain road to the temple, said her village had been an active battlefield between Khmer Rouge and Cambodian military forces since she moved there in 1979. 

"I never thought this area would become popular with tourists. It's going to go from a war zone to a tourist boom town," she said.

She said that since the temple's World Heritage listing, her 12-room guesthouses, which before was lucky to see a guest every couple of days, is now regularly fully booked.

She said she planned to add more rooms but would wait for the temple standoff to cool down before making the investment.

Chim Phalla, from Komuoy village at the base of the Dangrek mountain range on which the temple sits, has "high hopes to earn a fortune" by quitting his job as a grocer and opening a restaurant to capitalise on the expected influx of tourist dollars.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon told the Post that the government would develop comprehensive plans to encourage the development of tourism infrastructure for Preah Vihear temple, including road access from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

The Unesco listing should also promote Preah Vihear's spot on multinational temple tours through Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, he added.  

Infrastructure

Early this month, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered that the 80 km road connecting Anlong Veng town to Preah Vihear temple be paved as the dispute with Thailand has lent new significance to the ancient  ruins of Preah Vihear temple.

The prime minister followed up last week, ordering the construction of a new 9km road from Prey Veng village in Oddar Meanchey province to Ta Moan Thom temple complex, also along the border with Thailand.

Thailand and Cambodia have been locked in a military standoff at the temples for six weeks.

Tensions have eased, but troops are still only yards apart in some disputed areas.

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