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Thai protests force closure of Preah Vihear temple

Thai protests force closure of Preah Vihear temple

Heng Chivoan

A military officer patrols the grounds of Preah Vihear June 15 during a celebration of the 46th anniversary of the International Court of Justice ruling giving Cambodia sovereignty over the temple. Protests erupted June 22 outside the Thai entrance to the ruins, which sits just meters inside the Cambodia-Thai border, prompting Phnom Penh to close the ancient Hindu monument to tourists out of safety fears, the government said.

Cambodian officials have closed Preah Vihear temple, citing security concerns after protesters claiming that the 10th-century Hindu monument belongs to Thailand rallied near the ruins.

“The gate to Preah Vihear temple is temporarily closed for the safety of tourists because Thai demonstrators are standing ... in front of the gate,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Sisphan told the Post on June 24, a day after the border crossing at the temple was sealed.

“The closure is not a political decision,” he added. “There has been no change in the policy of the Cambodian and Thai governments, and no interference between them.” 

Some two dozen Thai protesters remained on the Thai side of the border near the temple, said Ros Heng, chief of the Preah Vihear checkpoint, also on June 24, adding, "We closed the checkpoint because we saw the Thai people were coming and we were worried that ... people on both sides would clash."

The decision came as Deputy Prime Minister Sok An prepared to lead a delegation to Quebec, Canada, where he would push for Preah Vihear's inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Disputes over Preah Vihear have repeatedly prevented its World Heritage listing, with Thailand laying claim to the territory surrounding the mountain-top temple.

Cambodia announced earlier this month that it would seek to list only the temple, which was awarded to the Kingdom by the International Court of Justice in 1962, and a re-drawn map of the area was approved by the Thai government on June17.

But protests in Bangkok and the rally at the temple have further complicated the situation, with Thai demonstrators claiming that Cambodia was encroaching on Thai territory with its World Heritage Site application.

The Preah Vihear protests come against a backdrop of political unrest in Bangkok, where anti-government demonstrators have accused Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his government of ceding territory to Cambodia with their support for the temple listing.

The Thais at the temple protest would continue “until we get our Kao Phra Viharn (Preah Vihear) back and expel Cambodians who have encroached on the Thai border,” the Bangkok Post quoted protest leader Saman Sri-ngam as saying, adding that protestors sang the Thai national anthem and patriotic songs during their rally.

“We just learned about the closure this morning, and we have not received official word from the Cambodian government,” said Teruo Jinnai, head of UNESCO Cambodia. “UNESCO is not an authority on border issues; we offer technical assistance for heritage issues.”

The Thai Embassy declined to comment on the situation.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will meet with Thai and Cambodian officials regarding the World Heritage site application from  July 2-10.

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