Preah Vihear Eyed for World Heritage Status

The Preah Vihear temple could be a World Heritage site as soon as the end of next year, an official from the UN Educational, Scien­tific and Cultural Organ­ization said Tuesday.

Unesco officials are currently helping the government prepare a nomination file to present to the World Heritage committee. The file should be submitted by early next year, the official said.

“Inscription [on the World Heritage list] is a very long process,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

“In the best case, it could be done by the end of next year,” the official said, adding that the process generally takes one and a half to two years.

A royal decree providing for the temple’s protection has been drafted but not signed, according to a copy of the draft.

On Saturday, officials from Unesco and the government visited the 11th-century temple, dramatically located on a cliff near the Thai border in Preah Vihear province.

The Unesco officers, including country representative Etienne Clement, were dismayed to discover that two antennas—one for radio, one for the Mobi­Tel phone network—are being constructed right next to the temple.

These unsightly structures—they are not yet built, but the preparations for them are in place—could hurt the temple’s chances for a World Heritage designation.

“They are very damaging for the temple’s image,” the Unesco official said. The official said they are directly west of the north-south stairway that leads into the temple, between the second and third gopuras (ceremonial gateways) near the site’s helicopter landing pad.

“The government is very keen to list this monument” and agreed to remove the antennas, the official said, adding that engineers believe the antennas can be just as effective at the bottom of the hill or atop a smaller hill.

The Angkor temples, currently Cambodia’s only World Heritage site, were listed in 1992. It is not unusual for countries to have more than one site. Italy has 30, and China has 23, for example.

The Unesco official said Preah Vihear deserves the designation. “It is Khmer architecture, but absolutely different from the Angkor temples because it follows the landscape,” the official said.

The temple has been almost inaccessible since the Thais closed their border checkpoint there last year, claiming Cam­bodians living near the border were polluting a stream that flows into Thailand.

In response, Cam­bodia began building a road to the site. The road is now nearing completion, officials said.

(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)


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