REUTERS – Thai and Cambodian soldiers are facing off once again over a disputed parcel of land in the shadow of Preah Vihear, a stunning 900-year-old Hindu temple sitting on the border between the two countries.
Following are four facts about the site, which is currently closed to tourists:
1)– Completed in the 11th century, Preah Vihear pre-dates Cambodia’s more famous Angkor Wat temple complex by 100 years.
Many say its stunning setting atop a jungle-clad escarpment overlooking northern Cambodia also eclipses its celebrated cousin as the finest of all the ruins left by the mighty Khmer civilisation.
2)– Officially part of Cambodia since a 1962 World Court ruling, Preah Vihear, or Khao Phra Viharn, as the Thais call it, has been accessible mainly only from Thailand.
From Cambodia, landmines and Khmer Rouge guerrillas kept it off-limits for decades. Even after Pol Pot’s forces surrendered in 1998, the track up the 600 metre Dangrek escarpment is so steep and pot-holed it’s passable only by motorbike or heavy-duty four-wheel drive. After rain, you can forget it altogether.
3)– The temple has stirred nationalist passions on both sides for generations.
In the run-up to the 1962 World Court ruling, Thailand’s military government organised a fund-raiser in which every citizen donated 1 baht to pay for Bangkok’s legal team at The Hague.
4)– Preah Vihear has witnessed its fair share of bloodshed.
The Khmer Rouge occupied the site for years, and rusting artillery pieces can still be found lying amid the ruins.
In June 1979, Thai soldiers forced 45,000 refugees from Pol Pot’s “Killing Fields” to descend the heavily mined escarpment back into Cambodia.
“Several thousand died, either shot by Thai soldiers to prevent them trying to cross back, or blown up in the minefields,” British historian Philip Short wrote in a seminal biography of Pol Pot.