Published: July 11, 2008
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia’s former king dismissed any Thai claim to an 11th century temple on the border as baseless, weighing in on a dispute that has soured relations between the neighbors and fueled anti-government protests in Thailand.
Preah Vihear temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site this week, reopening a long-standing disagreement between Phnom Penh and Bangkok over which country owns the land that surrounds it.
Former King Norodom Sihanouk said in a handwritten note posted on his Web site Friday that any Thai claims to the temple were “absolutely false.”
He accused the Thais of causing “unmerited and anachronistic problems” for Cambodia “rather than concentrating on developing harmonious, friendly and fruitful relations” between the two countries.
Sihanouk said that some Thais are ignoring historic facts that prove that the “mountain and the temple of Preah Vihear are 100 percent Cambodia and belong to Cambodia 100 percent.”
In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple and the land it occupies to Cambodia, a decision that still rankles Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor Wat in northwestern Cambodia.
“Thanks to Khmer kings and the Khmer Empire — the Angkorian Empire in particular — Thailand is actually very rich in temples and other Khmer monuments in the style of Angkor,” the former king said.
Thailand’s Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama resigned Thursday after the Constitutional Court ruled that he had overstepped his authority in supporting Cambodia’s application to have the temple classified as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO added the temple to its list of landmarks on Monday.
Some political opponents have charged that the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej deliberately bypassed Parliament and backed the bid in exchange for business concessions from Cambodia for toppled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and other Samak cronies.
Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, led a group of Thai, British and Dubai businessmen to Cambodia in late May to discuss several investment projects, including the construction of a new city.
But at a recent news conference, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong dismissed suggestions that the business trip was linked to the Preah Vihear issue.
As Cambodians celebrate the recognition for the temple, a small group of Thais continue to protest, demanding the eviction of Cambodians living on land near the temple.