S o Mara, Cambodia's Director General of the Ministry of Tourism, was axed by Hun
Sen on Monday July 16 following a controversy over an agreement negotiated with Thai
The agreement ceded partial management of the 10th Century Preah Vihear Temples near
Cambodia's northern Thai border to Thailand.
Funcinpec lawmaker Nan Sy had been outraged by the agreement and sought the support
of the National Assembly, eventually gaining 39 signatures for a letter to Hun Sen
demanding the removal of the tourism official.
Sy maintains that the agreement was signed illegally.
"The So Mara issue is over, but the Preah Vihear issue is not finished yet.
We can negotiate about tourists but we cannot negotiate about the control of the
temple," said Ny.
The Preah Vihear temples have long been a prickly issue between Cambodia and its
neighbours. The strategic hillside position has at various times been occupied by
military forces of Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge.
While the temple is officially under Cambodian jurisdiction, it is accessible only
through Thailand, is predominantly visited by Thai tourists and patrolled by unarmed
Thai Army Rangers.
Sy described the temples as one of Cambodia's most important "national treasures".
"You cannot compare it to Angkor Wat, it is unique and my people believe that
it is very very important...we need investment [in tourism] but control of the temple
is not negotiable," he said. "Preah Vihear is a very sensitive issue for
the Cambodian people, that's why the King went to court in 1962", added Ny.
In 1958 the Thai military took possession of the temple, an event which was considered
a catalyst for Sihanouk to establish diplomatic relations with China against the
wishes of Cambodia's western allies.
In 1959 Prince Sihanouk took the Preah Vihear dispute to the World Court in the
Hague and in 1962 the court decided in Cambodia's favor.
Ny is hopeful of a speedy resolution to the current dispute after a meeting between
Thai and Cambodian authorities set for August 2.
"I hope that after the Minister of Tourism comes to the National Assembly on
August 2 we will have an answer", said Ny.
So Mara himself is no stranger to controversy. In August 2000 he was implicated in
an involvement with a human trafficking ring that forced a group of Eastern European
women into prostitution at a Phnom Penh karaoke bar.
Athough Mara was named by the women as one of their most regular patrons, entertaining
groups of Thai tourists at the Tai-Ming Plaza nightclub on a nightly basis, he escaped
any official censure for his actions.