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Preah Vihear set for celebration


Preah Vihear temple

Ahead of today's Kingdom-wide celebration marking the one-year anniversary of Preah Vihear temple's inscription as a World Heritage site, soldiers and civilians on Monday pitched in to clean up the 11th-century Hindu complex that is at the centre of the nation's latest conflict.

Security forces were further bolstered by members of Prime Minister Hun Sen's bodyguard unit, who have been seen inspecting the temple grounds since Friday. Although many soldiers and officers said they could not celebrate because they had to maintain their positions, Colonel Khon Savoun, a member of the bodyguard unit, said Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commanders from the front lines would attend today's ceremony at the temple.

"We are proud to have our temple listed as a World Heritage site. Even though we are at the border, we also have a chance to join in happiness," he said.

He added that the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts was organising traditional dances to be held Tuesday night in Sa Em village, 20 kilometres from the temple.

In addition to military brass and local clergy, bodyguard Tleth Dara said Monday that Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An is expected to attend the ceremony today.

New 2-by-5-metre signs marking the anniversary in Khmer, French and English were hung around the temple and in the town at the foot of the mountain.

Meanwhile, troops from both sides joined together in disputed frontier territory Monday to enjoy two roasted pigs and wine, a Cambodian officer said.

Colonel Khoun Savoun said soldiers posted at Sambok Khmum met in the 20-metre-wide span between both camps to share the swine and wine. He added that, after the soldiers finished the Cambodians' wine, Thais supplied some of their own to keep the party going.

The feast followed a lunch on Sunday that brought together Cambodian and Thai officers and soldiers at the mountain's pagoda, where the presence of Thai soldiers has been a sticking point in negotiations.

Following that meal, RCAF General Thun Sopal said, "We want to tie up closer friendship between soldiers from both countries in order to reduce tension in the area."

Thai tourists turned back
Also Monday, a Thai couple was refused entry to the temple complex, which a bodyguard said was for security reasons.

Sarun Ya, a 38-year-old Thai citizen, said she was refused entry along with her male companion.

Tleth Dara said his commanders had given him orders to turn away Thai tourists.

"If these Thai people go to the temple ... they can spy on our military bases and then they can shoot at us," he said.

A senior commander who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, "We don't want Thai citizens at the temple because we are worried they can cause problems or can have problems with Cambodian people at the temple."

Tleth Dara added that the ban on Thai tourists would end when the conflict did.

"Any national can get to the temple, except Thais. Anyone who speaks Thai, we will not allow to visit this temple, too," he said, adding, "They can come later, when we solve the problems."

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