Sunday, 27 February 2011 19:59 Cheang Sokha
A special envoy from UNESCO arrived in the Kingdom today to discuss the preservation of Preah Vihear temple following deadly clashes along the Thai-Cambodian border near the 11th-century site earlier this month.
Koichiro Matsuura, formerly the head of UNESCO, will be in Cambodia until Tuesday to hold talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and other senior officials.
Matsuura was originally scheduled to travel to Preah Vihear on Tuesday to assess the damage sustained by the temple over four days of fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops that left at least 10 people dead and displaced thousands of civilians.
The envoy said today, however, that this visit had been delayed.
Chuch Phoeurn, chairman of the Preah Vihear National Authority, said the trip had been postponed for two weeks to allow Cambodia to prepare for the arrival of military observers from Indonesia who will be monitoring the situation along the border as a result of an agreement reached between Thailand and Cambodia last week.
On Saturday, an advance team of five Indonesians visited the border area to plan for the observers’ arrival, Chuch Phoeurn said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said UNESCO’s role in the dispute was not to determine “who is right and who is wrong”, but to “ease tension” and “seek cooperation to effectively protect the temple of Preah Vihear”.
The temple sustained damage to its staircases and exterior during this month’s clashes, though early claims from the Cambodian government that a whole wing had collapsed later proved exaggerated.
Matsuura came to the Kingdom from Thailand, where he met officials including Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva in relation to the dispute.
Thai state media reported that Bangkok had stressed the importance of resolving the countries’ border dispute before UNESCO approves Cambodia’s management plan for the temple.
Tensions along the border have been heightened since 2008, when UNESCO inscribed Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site for Cambodia.
Chum Puy, governor of Kulen district in Preah Vihear province, said today that of the 2,678 families living near the border who had been evacuated to temporary shelters in the midst of the fighting, all but 30 had returned to their homes.
“We see that the situation is now safe for them to return,” he said.