Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Disputed temple's visits fall: military

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath and Chhay Channyda
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

THE popularity of Preah Vihear temple, which received a steady flow of patriotic visitors in the first weeks after the border dispute with Thailand broke out in July, has plummeted as travellers see it as the starting point of any potential armed eruption between the two sides, say military officials on the ground.

"We have less people visiting the temple every day," said Yim Phim, commander of Brigade 8, stationed at Preah Vihear. He said only the occasional group trickled in.

That the nearly eight-month standoff's only armed fight came near Preah Vihear has had the effect of keeping people away, he said, adding that poor access routes to the ancient mountain temple were another reason.

"It's different from Ta Moan Thom temple. The lines [between Cambodian and Thai troops] are more organised there," he told the Post.

Indeed, the number of travellers to Ta Moan Thom, another disputed temple site along the border in Oddar Meanchey province, has remained high, with more than a thousand people visiting last Sunday, according to Neak Vong, deputy commander of Brigade 42, which is based there.

He said the site's popularity has forced soldiers there to adopt new duties: "Our soldiers now have to pick up plastic bags and garbage, and clean toilets for the tourists."

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