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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai protests keep border closed

Thai protests keep border closed

Thai protests keep border closed

3-preah-vihear.jpg
3-preah-vihear.jpg

Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Thai tourists visit the Preah Vihear temple on June 21, the day before Cambodia closed the nearby border checkpoint with Thailand due to escalating Thai tensions over a map of the temple’s surrounding area.

The border with Thailand at the Preah Vihear checkpoint will stay closed until Thai protesters near the ancient temple site disperse, amid concerns that the demonstrators might “instigate problems,” said Preah Vihear provincial governor Preap Tan.

“We have to be careful for our people’s security, so we have to close it,” Tan said on June 26.

The checkpoint was closed late on June 22 after the protesters gathered at a market near the main entrance to the temple, on top of a ridge most easily accessed from the Thai side of the border.

The protesters oppose a June 17 decision by the Thai cabinet to approve a new map drawn by Cambodia of the site of the 10th century Hindu monument.

Approval of the map has cleared the way for Cambodia’s nomination for Preah Vihear’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to proceed after years of delays.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An is leading the Cambodian delegation to a UNESCO meeting in Quebec, Canada, in early July at which the nomination will be considered.

“We hope that Preah Vihear will be added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites,” Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said on June 25.

Siphan said he could foresee no obstacles to listing because of a joint communique endorsing the nomination signed by Sok An and the Thai foreign minister, Noppadon Pattama, on June 18.

However, the Thai government is coming under increasing criticism from opposition parties and civil society groups over its endorsement of the nomination.

The government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was condemned over the issue during a no-confidence debate in the Thai parliament last week. The issue has also been taken up by a coalition of anti-government groups which began street protests in Bangkok last month calling for Samak’s resignation.

The arrival of protesters at the checkpoint came after speakers at the street protests began using the Preah Vihear issue to step up their criticism of Samak.

Siphan said the reopening of the checkpoint will depend on the behavior of the Thai protesters.

“The checkpoint will be reopened after the demonstrators disperse and the situation calms down,” he said.

He criticized Thai opposition parties for politicizing the issue and also accused them of instigating demonstrations against Cambodia’s bid to seek World Heritage listing for Preah Vihear.

Siphan also expressed frustration at the attitude of Thai opposition parties towards the 1962 ruling by International Court of Justice granting sovereignty of Preah Vihear to Cambodia.

“Thai opposition party leaders are lawmakers but they oppose the international court’s decision,” he said.

Meanwhile, the closure of the checkpoint has forced Cambodian snack and souvenir vendors at the temple site to suspend operations.

Ley Eang, who runs a cafe at Preah Vihear, said on June 25 his only customers since the closure had been other Cambodians living at the site.

“My shop has had no customers from outside, so business is not good,” Eang told the Post on June 25. 

“Some shopkeepers have returned to their home villages for a rest,” he said.

Preah Vihear checkpoint chief Ros Heng dismissed concerns that the closure would lead to food shortages on the Cambodian side of the border.

“We have no problem with food shortages as in past years because there is now road access to the temple,” Heng said.

He said there were dozens of Thai protesters at the market. “We are watching them,” Heng said.

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