Published: July 14, 2008
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodians celebrated the U.N.’s listing of an 11th-century Hindu temple as a world cultural landmark with a mass rally, fireworks and plenty of nationalist songs Monday.
A crowd estimated by authorities at 10,000 — some wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Preah Vihear temple — gathered to cheer the recognition by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee a week ago.
The listing angered political leaders in neighboring Thailand, and sparked small protests by some Thais who feared it would jeopardize their country’s claims to disputed land adjacent to the site.
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who headed his government’s lobbying efforts for the temple’s status, recounted what he called repeated attempts by Thailand to prevent Cambodia from unilaterally pursuing its goal.
He dismissed as unacceptable Thailand’s demand for a joint application with Cambodia because that would mean Phnom Penh would have to share ownership of the site.
“Our cause is just and fair. Our achievement is of great significance given the tough struggle we have managed to overcome,” Sok An said to loud applause. “It also further reaffirms that Preah Vihear temple is Cambodia’s.”
In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple and the land it occupies to Cambodia, a decision that still rankles many Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor complex in northwestern Cambodia.
Some Thais have been protesting the UNESCO listing near the border and demanding the eviction of Cambodians living on land near the temple. In response, Cambodia has sealed off access from Thailand to the temple, forcing many Cambodian vendors who survive on income from tourists to close their shops, said Hang Soth, director-general of the national authority for Preah Vihear temple.
He said some villagers were surviving on food aid sent by the Cambodian Red Cross.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has accused Thai opposition politicians of exploiting the cross-border dispute to advance their own domestic political agenda and warned they might endanger bilateral relations.