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French PM praises temple rebuild

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon was in attendance yesterday in Siem Reap province at the inauguration of the Baphuon Temple in the Angkor Wat temple complex, the culmination of a 16-year rebuilding process.

Speaking in front of French and Cambodian officials and hundreds of onlookers, Fillon congratulated Professor Pascal Royère, an archaeologist from France’s Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient who led a team that had worked on restoring the temple since 1995.

Fillon noted that the project was a continuation of an earlier French effort to restore Baphuon during the 1960s. Records in relation to the site were lost during the Khmer Rouge era, however.

“The vanishing of the documents has made the reconstruction a titanic puzzle, a seemingly Sisyphean task that, unlike the story of the myth, has ended in a final success,” Fillon said.

Built in the mid-11th century as a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva by King Udayadityavarman II, Baphuon was one of the first Angkorian temples to feature carved images and narrative panels depicting religious rituals and myths.

Restoring the site required the dismantling and cataloguing of more than 300,000 individual stone blocks from the temple structure as part of a project that ultimately cost roughly US$13.8 million.

Hailing Baphuon as one of the “most magnificent architectural achievements of the Khmer Empire,” Fillon said that French involvement in restoring the site was an example of the close cooperation between the two countries.

“Over the last twenty years different French institutions have worked to share scientific knowledge and techniques to restore Angkor, and to share with Cambodians the skills required to preserve the heritage that is theirs.”

Fillon arrived in the Kingdom on Saturday for a two-day visit, meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Father Norodom Sihanouk and King Norodom Sihamoni. He led a delegation of French officials and representatives from companies including oil giant Total, construction firm Vinci and aircraft manufacturer European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company.

Total signed a deal in 2009 to explore for oil in the Gulf of Thailand in an area claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia, paying the government a US$20 million signature bonus and $8 million for a social development programme.

Sry Thamrong, the minister attached to Prime Minister Hun Sen, told reporters following a meeting between Fillon and Hun Sen on Saturday that France planned to invest $29 million in Cambodian agriculture and rice production next year.

Bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $228 million last year, with Cambodian exports amounting to $161 million of that total.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ELEONORE SOK HALKOVICH

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