Cambodia closes border access to controversial Hindu temple

via published on June 24, 2008

  Phnom Penh – Border access to Preah Vihear
temple has been closed indefinitely after the potential World Heritage
Site was turned in to a political football in neighbouring Thailand,
Cambodian authorities said Tuesday.

   Cambodian authorities
decided to close a Thai-Cambodian border crossing to the ancient Hindu
temple on Monday after a rally of about 100 Thai protestors gathered at
the site, said Preah Vihear Authority Director General Hang Soth.

   ‘This is Thailand’s problem, because those protestors were an
anti-Thai government group,’ Hang Soth said in a telephone interview.
But he admitted that the issue was a sensitive one on both sides of the

   ‘The border was closed because both governments don’t want an explosion between our two peoples,’ said Hang Soth.

   Preah Vihear, a centuries-old Hindu temple perched on a 525-metre
high cliff that defines the Thai-Cambodian border, has been a bone of
contention for the two neighbouring countries for decades.    

   The temple, which may be designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO
next month, prompted an ownership spat between Cambodia and Thailand
that led to a suspension of diplomatic relations in 1958 and eventually
ended up in The Hague for an international settlement in 1962. The
court ruled in Cambodia’s favour, but the loss of the temple remains a
national wound for many Thais.

   Preah Vihear became a
contentious issue for the current Thai government after it approved a
Cambodian proposal to submit the temple as a possible heritage site
with UNESCO next month.

   Last year Thailand opposed the
temple’s UNESCO listing on the grounds that the Cambodian map of the
site included some disputed territories. Cambodia redrew the map last
month, and the Thai cabinet approved the revised siting.     

   Thailand’s opposition Democrat Party, which launched a no-confidence
motion against the Thai cabinet on Tuesday, has criticized Prime
Minister Samak Sundaravej for throwing the government’s approval to the
heritage listing without seeking parliament’s approval.

   Opposition politicians have accused the government of pushing the
proposal through to win Cambodian business benefits for former premier
Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in September 2006
and has been banned from politics for five years.

is seen as the behind-the-scenes backer of Samak and the People Power
Party (PPP) which leads the current cabinet.     

The Thai
protestors dispersed peacefully at around 5:30 pm without intervention
from border police on either side, according to witnesses.

   The deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, Long Sovann, said the
governor had closed the border after receiving orders from the
Cambodian government but declined further comment.

   Neither the governor nor government spokesman Khieu Kanharith were available for comment Tuesday.

   The Khmer-language Koh Santepheap daily featured a front-page
picture of the protestors Tuesday, showing them hoisting a yellow flag
and a Thai national flag on Thai soil just 20 meters short of the
border during the rally.

   Some of the protestors also wore yellow shirts, a colour that has been adopted by the anti-Thaksin movement.

   Like Koh Santepheap, the other two mass circulation Khmer-language
dailies Rasmei Kampuchea and Kampuchea Thmey made it clear that Thai
Prime Minister Samak had not approved of the protest.

   Kampuchea Thmey blamed the rally on Thailand’s People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), an anti-Thaksin coalition.

   All three newspapers played down the incident and said that the
issue of the border temple was not disputed by either the Cambodian or
Thai governments.a

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