Border at Preah Vihear Closed As Thais Rally

Cambodia has closed the border crossing at the Preah Vihear temple after 150 Thai demonstrators claiming the ruins belonged to Thailand rallied Sunday within 300 meters of the border-hugging temple, officials said Monday.

The demonstrations come as Cabinet Minister Sok An is scheduled to fly to Paris tonight en route to Quebec, Canada, to lobby for the temple’s inscription as a World Her­itage Site before the World Her­itage Committee, officials said.

About 150 demonstrators, organized by Thai opposition group the People’s Alliance for Democracy, amassed in the parking lot on the Thai side of the border, Preah Vi­hear Authority Director General Hang Soth said.

The demonstrators held banners denouncing the Thai government’s recent endorsement of Cambodia’s bid to list the temple as a Heritage Site and requested a meeting with a representative from the Cambodi­an government, Hang Soth said by telephone.

“They demanded the temple from Cambodia,” he said. Thai police and Cambodian police together prevented the protestors from reaching the temple, Hang Soth added.

“The Thai demonstrators have gathered near the temple. They are not normal tourists, so we closed the gate,” Deputy National Police Commissioner Sok Phal said Monday.

“We do not know when it will open,” he added.

Senior Minister Var Kimhong, who is chairman of the government’s Border Committee, confirmed that access to the temple from Thailand was closed Monday due to the demonstrations.

“Today, no one crossed the border,” he said by telephone. Asked when the border would open, Var Kimhong answered: “It depends on the evolution of the situation.”

Preah Vihear Provincial Deputy Governor Long Sovann said that some of the Thai protestors remained camped at the border Monday.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the demonstration would not affect Cambodia’s bid for the temple’s heritage listing.

Thai Embassy First Secretary Chaturont Chaiyakam declined to comment.

In addition to Sok An, Var Kimhong will also be flying to Quebec within the next week to present Cambodia’s inscription bid, along with Culture Ministry Secretary of State Chuch Phoeurn, Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo, National Commission for Unesco Secretary-General Tan Theany and Council of Ministers Secretary of State Chan Thani, officials said.

The 21-nation World Heritage Committee will hear Cambodia’s proposal on July 6 or July 7, said Anne Lemaistre, chief of unit for Policy and Statutory Meetings at Unesco’s World Heritage Center in Paris.

“We do not have the order of speakers, it will [be] decided on the spot,” she said by e-mail Monday.

Teruo Jinnai, the Unesco representative in Cambodia, said the World Heritage Committee has already acknowledged the “outstanding universal value” of Preah Vihear, and Cambodia had already completed the committee’s request to submit a progress report on how to “strengthen conservation and management at the site.”

“Cambodia prepared the said-report and submitted it on time. The decision concerning the inscription of the Temple now belongs to the Committee,” Jinnai wrote by e-mail Monday.

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