Sanjib Kr Baruah, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, March 09, 2011
With tension palpable along the Thai-Cambodia border, regional grouping ASEAN has proposed a meeting between the two countries on March 24-25 to resolve the vexed border issue that centers around the stunning 900-year-old stunning Preah Vihear temple complex dedicated to Shiva, one of the trinity of Hindu Gods. It is a temple that architect Divay Gupta helped restore.
Understandably Gupta is a worried man. "I was there in January last year and have been going there on and off for the last five years. I have heard there has been some damage on the temple. It is already very fragile and there is threat of the entire structure collapsing," he told HT.
As an international expert under a UNESCO project, Gupta had helped prepare the management plan for the temple complex. The effort led to the listing of the monument as a world heritage site on July 7, 2008, sparking off a decades-long dispute that led to Thai and Cambodian troops exchanging machine gun and artillery fire that has resulted in many deaths—both of soldiers and civilians—besides leading to the displacement of thousands.
Heavily landmined in the aftermath of the decades-long war in Cambodia, the border between the two countries has never been fully demarcated.
The present dispute has its roots in 2008 when anti-government protesters in Thailand vehemently criticised the Thai regime for backing Cambodia's bid to list the site as a world heritage site.
Contending claims to the Shiva temple and its surrounding area have stirred nationalist passion in the two countries for generations.
More than a decade ago, the 11th century temple area was under the control of the remnants of Pol Pot's guerrilla army, the Khmer Rouge. It predates the famous Angkor Wat temple complex by more than 100 years.
In 1962, the International Court of Justice had awarded the 4.6 sq km area comprising the temple and its precincts to Cambodia, irking Thailand no end, whose military regime had organised a fund-raiser where every citizen donated 1 baht to pay for the Thai legal effort at The Hague.
Situated on a hillock, the temple is mainly accessible from the Thai side as it was land-mined from the Cambodian side by Khmer Rouge guerrillas besides being a very steep 600-metre climb.
The descent from the temple has a bloody history with thousands having been blown to bits in 1979 when Thai soldiers forced some 45,000 refugees to climb down the mined precipice to Cambodia.