Work is finally under way to repair damage to Preah Vihear temple caused during clashes between Cambodia and Thailand more than two years ago, officials said yesterday.
Long Kosal, deputy director of the National Authority of Preah Vihear, said a restoration project has been ongoing since February 10, focused on strengthening stone strafed by bullets during clashes between Cambodia and Thailand over the disputed temple from 2008 to 2011.
“UNESCO agreed to the project, and our officials have had … an expert on stone conservation helping us to repair and monitor the strength and quality of the stone,” he said.
“We are not sure about [how] serious the impact of chemical substances from the weapons is, but if we don’t repair the temple, it will be ruined,” he added.
Kosal could not say how many bullet holes the temple sustained in the clashes but said there are many parts of it much in need of repair.
UNESCO could not be reached yesterday to confirm its involvement in the restoration project.
Chhim Sovantha, a heritage police officer at Preah Vihear who guards the temple, said that last week dozens of officials from the Apsara Authority and Preah Vihear Authority came to the temple for several days to clean bullet holes left in the stone.
With the cleaning process now over, officials are expected to return to fill in the bullet holes in the coming weeks, though their exact schedule is unknown.
“I am not sure when those officials will come back to repair the holes,” Sovantha said.
“I don’t know why they came now, but maybe it’s because both Cambodia and Thailand agreed to respect the order of the International Court of Justice [ICJ] handed down last year and the situation along the border [is] calm now,” he added.
In November, the ICJ ruled that Cambodia has sovereignty over the territory of Preah Vihear temple – confirming a 1962 ruling by the ICJ which awarded the temple and its “vicinity” to Cambodia but left its boundaries in dispute – and ordered Thailand to withdraw its military personnel from the area.
However, when asked if the move to repair the temple is related to the ICJ’s ruling, Kosal of the National Authority of Preah Vihear said: “It is a technical mission . . . we have to fulfill our obligation to the conservation of the temple. We are not considering border affairs [or] the order of the ICJ.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was unaware of the details of the restoration project.
“I don’t know any details about this project,” he said. “[Preah Vihear] temple is the responsibility of the local authorities.”
Hong Soth, director of the Preah Vihear Authority, and Bun Narith, director of Apsara Authority, could not be reached for comment yesterday.