Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Cambodia returns Thai temple trespassers

By eNews 2.0 Staff
July 15th 2008

returning three Thai nationals, including a Buddhist monk, who had crossed into Cambodia to protest the recent decision to list Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site.

The Thais, identified as Phicharn Thapsorn, 35, Chanikarn Singnok, 64, and Buddhist monk Khamphor, were detained by Cambodian soldiers for trespassing in the Preah Vihear temple compound on the Cambodian side of the border.

The men, reportedly members of a Buddhist peace pilgrimage group, had crossed into the temple area from Khantalak district, Si Sa Khet province, which borders Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, Monday night.

Si Sa Khet Governor Seni Chittakasem confirmed that Cambodian authorities had released the three men unconditionally by Tuesday afternoon.

An estimated 40 Thai border police had crossed the Cambodian border into Preah Vihear temple to retrieve the trespassing Thais, alarming tourists and sparking urgent talks between the two sides, Cambodian authorities said.

'After the arrests, around 40 black uniformed Thai border guards with guns arrived at the temple and scared tourists with their weapons,' said Hang Soth, secretary-general of the government's Preah Vihear authority in a telephone interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Cambodia has had riot police and military on standby at the temple since Thai protests began earlier this month.

Preah Vihear temple, known as Phra Viharn in Thailand, was named a World Heritage Site at a UNESCO meeting in Quebec earlier this month, despite Thai opposition to the listing.

The ancient Hindu temple, perched on a 525-metre-high cliff on the Dangrek Mountain range that defines the Thai-Cambodian border, has been the source of a sovereignty dispute for decades.

An ownership spat between Cambodia and Thailand led to a suspension of diplomatic relations in 1958 and eventually ended up in The Hague for an international settlement in 1962. Cambodia won.

The temple reemerged as a source of bilateral tensions in 2006 when Cambodia first proposed listing the monument as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Thailand objected, and succeeded in blocking the subscription attempt in 2006 and 2007 on the grounds that parts of the temple compound were still subject to a border dispute.

Cambodia redrew the Preah Vihear inscription map this year, excluding the disputed territory. It was approved by the World Heritage Committee on July 7.

The Thai government at first backed the proposal, but then withdrew support when the issue became a political hot potato.

Residents of Si Sa Khet province, about 400 kilometres north-east of Bangkok, have been protesting the listing since early July, prompting Cambodia to shut access to the temple from the Thai side of the border.

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