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UNESCO envoy due on Sunday

A UNESCO envoy will arrive in the Kingdom on Sunday to meet with government officials and assess the damage to Preah Vihear temple during four days of deadly fighting between Thailand and Cambodia earlier this month.

Koichiro Matsuura, formerly the head of UNESCO, is leading a five-member delegation and will spend three days in Cambodia, meeting with officials and diplomats in Phnom Penh before traveling to the temple itself by helicopter next Tuesday, according to a government official who requested anonymity.

“The meetings will focus on the role of the international community, mainly UNESCO itself, in taking action to protect Preah Vihear temple,” the official said.

“UNESCO has the right to fully engage in protecting and preserving the temple, which has universal value for all humanity.”

Cambodian and Thai troops clashed along the border near Preah Vihear temple earlier this month, leaving at least 10 people dead and displacing thousands of civilians over four days of battle.

They have since taken their dispute before the United Nations Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Tensions have been heightened near the temple since 2008, when UNESCO named Preah Vihear a World Heritage site for Cambodia.

At a UNESCO meeting last year in Brazil, Cambodian and Thai delegates faced off as the Kingdom submitted management plans for Preah Vihear over Thai objections.

The temple sustained surface-level damage to its staircases and exterior during this month’s clashes from bullet and artillery fire, while Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, a nearby pagoda, was also hit.

Early reports from the government which said that a whole wing of Preah Vihear temple had collapsed in the fighting later proved exaggerated, however.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong joined Thailand’s Kasit Piromya and the rest of the foreign ministers from the 10-member ASEAN bloc in Jakarta this week for a meeting to address the dispute.

While not adopting a formal ceasefire, Thailand and Cambodia agreed to allow a delegation of unarmed Indonesian observers to join troops on both sides of the border near Preah Vihear to monitor the situation.

Returning today from Jakarta, Hor Namhong pronounced the meeting a success and said Cambodia hoped to welcome the observers in short order.

“We have requested that they come as soon as possible because the situation remains extremely fragile,” Hor Namhong said.

A statement issued by ASEAN on Tuesday said the observers would provide impartial reports on any incidents or activity along the border.

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