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Temple triumph

Temple triumph

Preah Vihear temple has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site after years of efforts by Cambodian officials to get the 11th-century Hindu monument listed, sparking jubilant celebrations across Phnom Penh.

The inscription, approved on July 7 by the 21-nation World Heritage Committee during a UNESCO meeting in Quebec, Canada, comes despite an ongoing dispute with Thailand over ownership of the land surrounding the temple, which sits atop an escarpment on the border between the two countries.

Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled on July 8 that Thailand's cabinet violated the Kingdom's constitution by endorsing a deal supporting Cambodia's bid for World Heritage listing.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said the same day, however, that the listing “is another new pride for the Cambodian people and the Kingdom of Cambodia."

“Again, I confirm that the listing of Preah Vihear temple ... does not affect the process of border negotiations between Cambodia and Thailand. I profoundly thank all Cambodian people for their heartfelt support,” he added in a statement that was broadcast over state media.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters later in the day that Cambodia's border committee was still working with its Thai counterpart over demarcating their mutual boundary.

"We always want good cooperation with Thailand," he said.

As Cambodia woke to the news that Preah Vihear was now a world landmark, crowds took to the streets, waving flags and banging drums. Hundreds of university students left their classrooms, jamming traffic as they massed near the University of Health and Sciences to sing the national anthem.

"I am very happy to hear the good news about the temple. I wish for it to bring good luck, more tourists and prosperity to Cambodia," said Phnom Penh resident Phon Samon, who attended a ceremony held by the Khmer Civilization Foundation in front of the Royal Palace.

Moeung Sonn, who is president of the Foundation which was formed in response to the Preah Vihear dispute, called the listing a "second victory" for Cambodia, the first being the 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice which gave the Kingdom sovereignty over the temple.

Despite the listing, however, the international border crossing at Preah Vihear remains closed following demonstrations there last month by Thais claiming that the temple belongs to Thailand – underscoring continuing tensions with Cambodia.

"It is too early to re-open the checkpoint. It will not be opened anytime soon," said Preah Vihear provincial governor Preap Tan.

"We have to see what the situation is first. We don't know how the Thais are going to react to this," he added.

In Phnom Penh, police were deployed to the Thai embassy last week amid concerns that the temple dispute could spark violent protests reminiscent of the 2003 riots, during which the embassy and numerous Thai-owned businesses were looted and burned.

The trouble five years ago started over false rumors that a Thai starlet had claimed Angkor Wat – the most important symbol of the once-mighty Khmer empire – belonged to Thailand.

"More police are on standby to protect the embassy if there is any rioting," said Mary Tes, the police official in charge of the detachment outside the Thai mission.

But he added that the UNESCO decision to list Preah Vihear would help ease tensions.

“Before, I was worried about security because we did not know if the temple would be registered. But now I am glad because it was officially approved by UNESCO and it is not a problem anymore," he told the Post on July 8.

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