Trash Sullies Temple Site as Military Standoff Continues

Now into its eighth week, the military standoff at Preah Vihear temple is taking its toll on the country’s newest World Heritage Site.

Some temple stones have shifted and even broken under the trample of soldiers’ boots, according to Preah Vihear National Authority Secretary-General Hang Soth, and trash is accruing off to the sides of the clifftop temple.

“The temple is the victim,” he said. Hang Soth said the authority puts 41 employees to work every day collecting trash and either burning it or burying it in the surrounding jungle. Cambodian troops help with the effort, said Colonel Som Bopharoath, RCAF commander for Preah Vihear province, but they merely hurl the refuse over the mountain’s edge.

Hang Soth said he’d like the trash to be hauled down the mountain, but this can’t happen until the treacherous road to the temple is paved. The government has announced plans to build two paved roads to the temple, but Hang Soth said he does not know when either will be completed.

While piling up the trash creates an eyesore, burning the trash creates smoke that blackens the temple, said Provincial Environment Director Khuy Khun Chanrath. The provincial government wants to take the rubbish 7 km away to a 6-hectare landfill, but Khuy Khun Chanrath also said that pockmarked temple road makes it impossible.

There’s another looming problem: human waste. The surrounding jungle carries a fetid stench thanks to troops defecating in the open, said Preah Vihear provincial police officer Prum Sarum, who is stationed on the frontline. That odor is intensifying, he added.

The Preah Vihear National Auth­ority is soon to get 30 portable toilets installed at the temple for civilians’ and soldiers’ use, an increase from the three current public bathrooms.

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