Thailand and Cambodia will begin discussions next week on reopening cross-border access to the Preah Vihear temple, the site of a dispute between both countries that has left the ancient Khmer temple off-limits to visitors from Thailand, provincial officials said Wednesday.
Thailand closed its border access to the Preah Vihear temple in December 2001 following a dispute over alleged water pollution from Cambodia to Thailand.
Tourist visits to the temple plummeted until the recent upgrading of a road on the Cambodian side of the border.
Preah Vihear Governor Preap Tann said Wednesday the opening of the border will begin with a new checkpoint at the Tathav pass in Choam Ksan district, 7 km east of the temple. After the Tathav checkpoint has been agreed upon, Cambodia will negotiate the re-opening of the old border crossing at the Preah Vihear temple.
“We will first consider the opening of Tathav checkpoint. The temple gate [checkpoint] will be next,” Preap Tann said.
“We consider both will be opened. We cannot open one and keep another closed,” he said.
Preap Tann said the Tathav border crossing will boost economic trade between the remote province and its more developed neighbor while the original crossing at the temple will mostly boost tourist visits from Thailand.
Preap Tann also said he was confident of solving the issue of Cambodian pollution entering a stream in Thailand, the problem that originally led Thailand to close the border.
“It will be solved. There will be no environmental problems,” he said, but added, “It will be reopened if the negotiations are conducted well.”
A government official said on Wednesday that the Tathav border crossing was bound to fail if the old border crossing at the temple was allowed to re-open.
Tourism at the Preah Vihear temple is the province’s main trade with Thailand, and if Thai tour guides are allowed to circumvent the Tathav border crossing, they will, the official warned.