Tuesday, 15 July 2008

3 Thai protesters sneak into Cambodia's ancient temple in disputed border region


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Three Thai protesters sneaked across the border into Cambodia on Tuesday to try to enter an 11th century temple at the center of a dispute between the neighboring countries, an official said.

The incident marked the first cross-border foray by Thai protesters since Cambodia shut off access to Preah Vihear temple to visitors from Thailand late last month.

Preah Vihear was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site a week ago despite objection from Thai anti-government groups. The two countries have a long-standing dispute over the land that surrounds the temple, and Thai activists have recently revived nationalist sentiment over the issue.

Hang Soth, director-general of the national authority for the temple, said a Thai Buddhist monk, a woman and a man apparently managed to evade a checkpoint on the Thai side and crossed through a jungle border into Cambodia.

He said they were immediately stopped by Cambodian guards and sent back.

"They walked over to our side (of the border) quietly and tried to hold a meditation at the temple," he said.

"But we told them that Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia and has just been registered as a World Heritage site," he said.

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.

Cambodia's recent move to secure the temple's world landmark status has angered political leaders in Thailand and sparked small protests by some Thais who feared it would jeopardize their country's claims to disputed land adjacent to the site.

Some Thais have been protesting the listing and demanding the eviction of Cambodians living on land near the temple. In response, Cambodia has sealed off access to the temple from Thailand since June 22.

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