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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Preah Vihear dispute claims new victim

Preah Vihear dispute claims new victim

S o Mara, Cambodia's Director General of the Ministry of Tourism, was axed by Hun

Sen on Monday July 16 following a controversy over an agreement negotiated with Thai


The agreement ceded partial management of the 10th Century Preah Vihear Temples near

Cambodia's northern Thai border to Thailand.

Funcinpec lawmaker Nan Sy had been outraged by the agreement and sought the support

of the National Assembly, eventually gaining 39 signatures for a letter to Hun Sen

demanding the removal of the tourism official.

Sy maintains that the agreement was signed illegally.

"The So Mara issue is over, but the Preah Vihear issue is not finished yet.

We can negotiate about tourists but we cannot negotiate about the control of the

temple," said Ny.

The Preah Vihear temples have long been a prickly issue between Cambodia and its

neighbours. The strategic hillside position has at various times been occupied by

military forces of Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge.

While the temple is officially under Cambodian jurisdiction, it is accessible only

through Thailand, is predominantly visited by Thai tourists and patrolled by unarmed

Thai Army Rangers.

Sy described the temples as one of Cambodia's most important "national treasures".

"You cannot compare it to Angkor Wat, it is unique and my people believe that

it is very very important...we need investment [in tourism] but control of the temple

is not negotiable," he said. "Preah Vihear is a very sensitive issue for

the Cambodian people, that's why the King went to court in 1962", added Ny.

In 1958 the Thai military took possession of the temple, an event which was considered

a catalyst for Sihanouk to establish diplomatic relations with China against the

wishes of Cambodia's western allies.

In 1959 Prince Sihanouk took the Preah Vihear dispute to the World Court in the

Hague and in 1962 the court decided in Cambodia's favor.

Ny is hopeful of a speedy resolution to the current dispute after a meeting between

Thai and Cambodian authorities set for August 2.

"I hope that after the Minister of Tourism comes to the National Assembly on

August 2 we will have an answer", said Ny.

So Mara himself is no stranger to controversy. In August 2000 he was implicated in

an involvement with a human trafficking ring that forced a group of Eastern European

women into prostitution at a Phnom Penh karaoke bar.

Athough Mara was named by the women as one of their most regular patrons, entertaining

groups of Thai tourists at the Tai-Ming Plaza nightclub on a nightly basis, he escaped

any official censure for his actions.



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