Temple harmony

DPA, May 7, 2008

Phnom Penh, Cambodia -- Cambodia and Thailand said on Tuesday that the border temple of Prey Vihear was not in dispute and Thailand would not obstruct it being accepted as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

"The process of listing the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site is a Cambodian internal affair," Cambodian spokesman Phay Siphon said. "Both governments agree to cooperate."

Siphon told journalists after a meeting between Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and a Thai delegation led by Thai Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Virasakdi Futrakul that the talks were cordial.

The temple, known as Khao Phra Viharn in Thai and predating Angkor Wat by a century, is a sacred site to both nations but can only be accessed easily from the Thai side.

Despite Thai protests, it was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court of Justice in The Hague but has historically remained a contentious issue between Thais and Khmers. In Thai, the temple is called Khao Phra Viharn.

Both sides are accused of deploying troops there in recent years, but on Tuesday, both sides were keen to be seen as in agreement.

Siphon declined comment about whether any other talks had been held on the two nations' still-disputed border demarcation or whether these have been as cordial.

Because of the rugged border terrain and a history of colonialism and war in Indochina, borders in the region remain a hot issue with potential mineral and oil reserves in the balance.

Siphon said he was not aware of a visit by World Heritage representatives to the temple this week, which diplomatic sources have said could go ahead.

In a speech to mark World Press Freedom Day over the weekend, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith was also conciliatory.

He urged journalists to keep their work on the temple issue factual and calm and not to incite problems that do not exist between the two neighbours.