Government officials denied last week that So Mara, general director of the Ministry of Tourism, signed a deal to share with Thailand control of and profits from the 13th century Preah Vihear temple.
“I would like to completely deny there is any signing of a deal to [give] Preah Vihear temple to Thailand,” Khieu Thavika, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Thursday.
Khieu Thavika said So Mara signed the minutes of a meeting with Thailand, not an agreement to give control of the temple to the Thai government. He said that the minutes stated nothing about renting or selling the temple, which is located on a 625-meter mountain near the Thailand border.
Documents show, however, that So Mara indeed signed a deal that allows Thailand to administer the management of the tourist facilities at the Preah Vihear temple. Thong Khon, secretary of state at the Tourism Ministry, also has said the agreement was illegal and added that So Mara apologized for his mistake.
Sao Chana, chief of tourism development in Preah Vihear for the Ministry of Tourism, acknowledged 30 percent of the temple’s revenue goes to Thailand, but that’s with the Cambodian government’s permission. And the government does need Thailand’s help to develop tourism at the temple, Khieu Thavika said.
Sao Chana said Thailand’s help is needed because access from Cambodia is arduous while the route from Thailand is much easier. All of the tourists at the temple come from Thailand, he added.
A group of lawmakers recently accused So Mara of illegally signing a deal that gives partial control of the Preah Vihear temple to Thailand. The agreement was illegal, they say, because it was done without the knowledge of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The lawmakers—primarily members of Funcinpec, led by Nan Sy—signed a letter asking Hun Sen to remove So Mara from office.
“We need money,” Nan Sy said, “but the deal [for 30 percent of the revenue] is dangerous.” He said Cambodia should control the administration and management of the temple and not share it with Thailand. Nan Sy discounted Thursday’s news conference by saying, “Don’t take a bamboo tray to try to cover the sun.”
Nan Sy said 39 National Assembly members support So Mara’s removal, and he is looking for more.
Khieu Thavika praised the lawmakers’ concern for Preah Vihear, but said they should “be sure of an allegation” before they make it.