Thursday, 28 August 2008

Ancient Temple Torn by Border Fight in Asia

August 5, 2008 — Buddhist monks stroll the grounds of Preah Vihear temple — a sacred site at the center of a potentially violent political standoff. The complex dates from the ninth to eleventh centuries A.D., when the Khmer Empire controlled both sides of the modern Thailand/Cambodia border.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but wrangling continues over 1.8 square miles (4.6 square kilometers) of land that provides access to the site.

The standoff, which began July 15 after UNESCO named the temple a World Heritage Site, has soldiers from both sides positioned near Preah Vihear; and many Thais and Cambodians praying for peace

Cambodian military police keep an eye on Buddhist monks at Preah Vihear on August 1, 2008. "We want to preserve the status quo, of before July 15, [which means] there are no soldiers in the disputed area," said a Cambodian embassy official in Washington, D.C.

He added that Cambodia was waiting for the Thai government to begin withdrawal of troops, as agreed in bilateral meetings last week. "How long we can wait I don't know."

Bun Rany, wife of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, joins a ceremony in hopes of ending the military standoff near Preah Vihear temple on August 1, 2008.

Longtime ruler Hun Sen won a general election last week, boosted by his tough tactics in the temple dispute.

Meanwhile Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who supported Cambodia's UNESCO bid for the site, faces the ire of Thai nationalists who consider the temple part of their own nation!

Thai troops guard a Buddhist pagoda near Preah Vihear temple on July 20, 2008.
Preah Vihear is a remote, cliff top temple perched on the edge of a high plateau that offers staggering views over the verdant Cambodian plains. The complex's Hindu characteristics (it is dedicated to Shiva) are more akin to Cambodian cultural sites like the legendary Angkor complex; but the most accessible entrance to the site is through Thailand.

A Thai student hustles through a pipe as part of an evacuation drill in Baan Phum Salon on July 23, 2008.

International politics have local relevance for people living in communities surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.

During Cambodia's civil war Preah Vihear was used as a base by the Khmer Rouge. Landmines are still common in the area, though a Thai official said the two nations pledged last week to work together to remove them.

Passions erupt as a villager hurls a stick at nationalist protestors in the Thai community of Kantharalak.

On July 17 villagers and police prevented nationalists from gathering at the Preah Vihear temple.

Damrong Kraikruan, Charge d'Affaires at the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C., said hope for peace sprang from a meeting of Thai and Cambodian officials last week. "We agreed to redeploy troops from the area, on both sides, and decrease tensions," he said.

Thai (in black) and Cambodian soldiers swap coffee and smiles near the Preah Vihear temple on July 25, 2008.

Tensions have eased, and the Thai cabinet approved a troop pullback on August 5. But soldiers remain on site and the longstanding land dispute appears far from finalized.

In fact, a similar standoff may be taking shape on another temple ground, Ta Moan Thom, located 80 miles (130 kilometers) away along the nations' shared border.

Credit: National Geographic

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