>Cambodia closes border access to controversial Hindu temple

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Thai protesters standing in front of Preah Vihear entrance gate.

Phnom Penh – Border access to Preah Vihear temple has been closed indefinitely after the potential World Heritage Site was turned in to a political football in neighbouring Thailand, Cambodian authorities said Tuesday.
Cambodian authorities decided to close a Thai-Cambodian border crossing to the ancient Hindu temple on Monday after a rally of about 100 Thai protestors gathered at the site, said Preah Vihear Authority Director General Hang Soth.
‘This is Thailand’s problem, because those protestors were an anti-Thai government group,’ Hang Soth said in a telephone interview. But he admitted that the issue was a sensitive one on both sides of the border.
‘The border was closed because both governments don’t want an explosion between our two peoples,’ said Hang Soth.
Preah Vihear, a centuries-old Hindu temple perched on a 525-metre high cliff that defines the Thai-Cambodian border, has been a bone of contention for the two neighbouring countries for decades.
The temple, which may be designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO next month, prompted an ownership spat between Cambodia and Thailand that led to a suspension of diplomatic relations in 1958 and eventually ended up in The Hague for an international settlement in 1962. The court ruled in Cambodia’s favour, but the loss of the temple remains a national wound for many Thais.
Preah Vihear became a contentious issue for the current Thai government after it approved a Cambodian proposal to submit the temple as a possible heritage site with UNESCO next month.
Last year Thailand opposed the temple’s UNESCO listing on the grounds that the Cambodian map of the site included some disputed territories. Cambodia redrew the map last month, and the Thai cabinet approved the revised siting.
Thailand’s opposition Democrat Party, which launched a no-confidence motion against the Thai cabinet on Tuesday, has criticized Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej for throwing the government’s approval to the heritage listing without seeking parliament’s approval.
Opposition politicians have accused the government of pushing the proposal through to win Cambodian business benefits for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in September 2006 and has been banned from politics for five years.
Thaksin is seen as the behind-the-scenes backer of Samak and the People Power Party (PPP) which leads the current cabinet.
The Thai protestors dispersed peacefully at around 5:30 pm without intervention from border police on either side, according to witnesses.
The deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, Long Sovann, said the governor had closed the border after receiving orders from the Cambodian government but declined further comment.
Neither the governor nor government spokesman Khieu Kanharith were available for comment Tuesday.
The Khmer-language Koh Santepheap daily featured a front-page picture of the protestors Tuesday, showing them hoisting a yellow flag and a Thai national flag on Thai soil just 20 meters short of the border during the rally.
Some of the protestors also wore yellow shirts, a colour that has been adopted by the anti-Thaksin movement.
Like Koh Santepheap, the other two mass circulation Khmer-language dailies Rasmei Kampuchea and Kampuchea Thmey made it clear that Thai Prime Minister Samak had not approved of the protest.
Kampuchea Thmey blamed the rally on Thailand’s People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), an anti-Thaksin coalition.
All three newspapers played down the incident and said that the issue of the border temple was not disputed by either the Cambodian or Thai governments.
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