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Temple assessment call

Temple assessment call

Prime Minister Hun Sen called for a team of experts to assess the damage sustained by Preah Vihear temple during fighting along the border last month in a meeting today with UNESCO special envoy Koichiro Matsuura.

The premier today met Matsuura, who is in town for a three-day visit to meet government officials and diplomats in the wake of fighting last month near Preah Vihear that left at least 10 people dead and displaced thousands of civilians.

He is set to depart today.

Speaking briefly to reporters following the meeting today, Matsuura said he had a “very lengthy but very good meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen”.

“We covered lots of things. UNESCO is a mediator, UNESCO does not take the side of any country,” he said. “UNESCO is neutral [and] objective.”

Eang Sophalleth, assistant to Hun Sen, said the prime minister had recommended that UNESCO send experts to assess the damage at the 11th century temple and to restore the site.

Matsuura “agreed” with Hun Sen’s recommendations, Eang Sophalleth said. UNESCO representatives could not be reached to corroborate this account.

Preah Vihear was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for Cambodia in 2008.

Matsuura travelled last week to Thailand, where he met officials including Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva to discuss the dispute.

Thai officials have implored UNESCO not to accept Cambodia’s management plan for Preah Vihear until the border conflict is resolved.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said UNESCO would send a team of experts to the temple following the arrival of Indonesian observers who will be in place to monitor the situation at the border following an agreement reached between Thailand and Cambodia last week.

This team, Sok An said, would discover the harm inflicted on the temple and a nearby pagoda by Thai troops.

“It is a war crime or a crime against religion because they damaged the pagoda, and it is a crime against culture because they damaged the temple,” Sok An said.

Thai troops have denied targeting the temple and have accused Cambodian forces of using it as a base in violation of international obligations.

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