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Temple preservation at top of Paris agenda

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and other senior government officials departed for Paris yesterday to attend a UNESCO-brokered meeting with their Thai counterparts to discuss how to safeguard the 11th Century Preah Vihear temple.

Speaking to reporters at Pochentong Airport, Sok An, who chairs the National World Heritage Committee, said the meeting would focus on evaluating damage to the temple caused by violent clashes over four days in early February that left at least 10 people dead.

“We will focus on an evaluation of damage to the temple from 414 shells fired by Thai soldiers,” he said, adding that UNESCO experts would participate in the evaluation.

UNESCO declared the Preah Vihear temple a World Heritage Site in 2008 over Thai objections. When fighting broke out near the temple, the Paris-based organisation called on both sides to exercise restraint, and later appointed a former UNESCO head, Koïchiro Matsuura, as a special envoy to discuss the issue with both sides.

Matsuura met in February with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajeva to discuss preservation of the temple, which sustained surface-level damage from bullets and artillery.

Cambodia and Thailand are expected to butt heads over Cambodia’s proposed management plan for the temple at a meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Paris next month.

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