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Thai minister hopes to recover Cambodian temple

Thai minister hopes to recover Cambodian temple

Thailand hopes some day to prove its claim to a historic border temple awarded to Cambodia by the World Court almost half a century ago, its justice minister says.
Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga expressed his opinion on the controversy over the 11th century Preah Vihear temple as Thailand's relations with its neighbor have become badly strained.
The temple sits on a cliff in a disputed zone between Thailand and Cambodia. It has been a source of tension and fueled nationalist sentiments on both sides of the border for decades.
On Wednesday, Cambodian villagers stabbed straw effigies of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, saying his policies caused border tensions that hurt their livelihoods.
The Thai government is carrying out delicate diplomatic maneuvering with Cambodia to try to obtain the release of a Thai citizen accused of spying. Relations with Cambodia have worsened lately because it hosted a visit by former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup and is now a fugitive from justice.
Pirapan on Tuesday led foreign journalists on a tour to the northeastern province of Sri Saket, adjacent to the Cambodian area where the temple is located.
Thai nationalists consider the 1962 ruling on the temple an injustice. Last year, Thai-Cambodian relations soured when Bangkok first backed, then opposed Cambodia's bid to have the temple declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some Thais believe the designation undermines their claims to a small area of surrounding land, despite denials by UNESCO.
Since then, both countries have beefed up their forces at the border, leading to several skirmishes that left at least seven soldiers dead.
"We respect the court ruling but hope to one day have the evidence to prove the temple itself is ours," Pirapan told The Associated Press.
Pirapan incorrectly claimed that the court ruled only that the temple itself belonged to Cambodia, but not the land it stands on.
The official summary of the court's judgment says it "found that the Temple of Preah Vihear was situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia."
Asked why Thailand was willing to fight over the disputed land near the temple, Pirapan responded: "because it's ours. Even if it is only one square inch, it is ours."
On the Cambodian side of the border, villagers Wednesday vented their anger by beating and stabbing straw effigies with signs carrying Abhisit's name.
"Abhisit is the man who created a war with us and makes our villagers lose their houses and property in the fighting," Try Piseth, one of the villagers who took part, said by phone.
The temple is easier to reach from the Thai side of the border, and a market has sprouted up on the Cambodian side that serves many Thai customers. But because of the unrest, the Thai army has blocked access to the temple much of the time in recent months so no one can visit the market from the Thai side.
Cambodia this month named Thaksin an adviser on economic affairs. The appointment, and a subsequent visit by Thaksin, set off a diplomatic row in which the two countries recalled their ambassadors. A Thai court last year sentenced Thaksin in absentia to two years in prison on a corruption charge.
Relations were strained further when Cambodia rejected a formal request from Bangkok to extradite Thaksin. The situation worsened when Cambodia expelled a Thai diplomat and arrested a Thai man on spying charges for allegedly passing secret information on Thaksin's flight schedule to the Thai Embassy.
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Associated Press writer Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-17 17:24 GMT+08:00