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A Cambodian soldier walks past the Preah Vhear temple in 2011. Afp

In event of gunplay, mind the temple

Heritage preservation spotlighted for soldiers guarding Preah Vihear

During a conflict, please avoid shooting the ancient temples.

This was the message delivered to more than 100 Cambodian soldiers and police stationed along the contentious Thai border in Preah Vihear province, including those guarding the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, during a three-day heritage protection workshop last week.

The event, which also included military representatives from Laos, the Philippines and Malaysia, focused on armed forces obligations under the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of the Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

Lim Bun Hok, an organiser and former UNESCO employee, explained the core message of the workshop, staged in Preah Vihear by the government’s National Commission of Cambodia for UNESCO.

“Soldiers have the responsibility to protect heritage and cultural areas, meaning that they should not shoot the heritage,” he said.

“They have to help to protect the heritage. It’s not only for soldiers in Preah Vihear, but the general idea is to get this message as far as possible into the region.”

Delegates from Thailand and Vietnam did not attend the regional conference, which featured six international speakers including Austria’s Archduke Karl von Habsburg, an expert on the 1954 convention.

Bun Hok said the Thai absence had nothing to do with sensitivity surrounding disputed border regions but because invitations were issued late.

Deadly clashes – including artillery bombardments – occurred periodically along the border from 2008 to 2011 after Preah Vihear temple was listed as a Cambodian UNESCO World Heritage site against Thailand’s wishes.

In 2013, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple’s immediate vicinity to Cambodia, though the agreement has yet to be fully implemented and tensions periodically stir.

However, Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker for Preah Vihear Sous Yara, who presented at the conference, said the Kingdom’s recent track record of peace in the region could see it become a “model country” for overcoming conflict and protecting heritage.

“From a country that’s suffered from a genocidal regime, from landmines, from the looting of artifacts, we have now become a modern country that can defend national and world heritage based on international law,” he said.

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