Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Visitors get access to Preah Vihear temple park

February 11, 2009

Hundreds of anxious visitors waited for hours yesterday to get access to the re-opened national park at Pha Mor I Daeng, the main gate to Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple.

The key attraction at the site is the 11th century temple, controlled by Cambodia since an International Court of Justice ruling in 1962. But it remains closed due to a border dispute.

Hundreds of visitors arrived at Pha Mor I Daeng front gate early yesterday after local news reports that authorities would re-open Khao Phra Viharn National Park, the closest and easiest way to get to the Hindu temple from Thailand.

Si Sa Ket governor Seni Jittakasem called an urgent meeting in the morning with all concerned agencies after pressure to appease people waiting to enter the park.

The governor said he could not open Pha Mor I Daeng in the morning as announced, as the Forestry Department, which is in charge of the area had yet to endorse the plan.

Some 300 visitors waited anxiously until 2pm, when rangers at Pha Mor I Daeng station opened the gate for them to get inside.

A foreigner visitor, Soulard Bertrand, who was there with his family in the morning, said he would not return until the whole family could enter.

The visitors could only go as far as the fence by Preah Vihear since Cambodia had yet to open the temple. Visitors could enter Pha Mor I Daeng free of charge until March 1 when the site will be opened officially, governor Seni said.

The Preah Vihear was shut in June last year after a group of protesters who called themselves Dhammayatra entered the temple.

The group, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, accused the Samak Sundaravej government of giving away sovereignty over land by Preah Vihear when it backed Cambodia's bid for the temple to become a World Heritage site.

The protest later triggered a border skirmish in October in which four soldiers from both sides were killed, and many others injured.

Rounds of border talks including another meeting last week have failed to resolve conflict about the disputed areas including 4.6 square kilometres where the Hindu temple sits.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said after a meeting with Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan last week that troops on both sides would be withdrawn from disputed areas near Preah Vihear soon.

However, the two sides have failed to reach a solution on withdrawing or re-deploying troops from the dispute areas, according to Lt General Wiboonsak Neeparn, the Second Army Region Commander who in charge of the area.

Meanwhile, Cabinet yesterday dumped Thailand's World Heritage committee chaired by Pongpol Adireksarn and replaced it with a new set of conservatives including Adul Wichiencharoen, a former chairman of the committee.

Adul was replaced by Pongpol during the Samak government last year as he strongly opposed the idea of backing Preah Vihear becoming a World Heritage site.

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