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Cambodia marks divisive temple ruling

CAMBODIA held nationwide celebrations yesterday to mark the first anniversary of a United Nations decision to list an ancient temple as a World Heritage Site - the subject of a heated border dispute with Thailand.

Buddhist temples around the country beat their drums, school bells chimed and students sang Cambodia's national anthem in unison at 11am - the time requested by Prime Minister Hun Sen for the national commemoration.

The 11th-century Preah Vihear temple sits on a cliff in a disputed border zone between Thailand and Cambodia. It has been a source of tension for decades.

Last year the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, backed Cambodia's bid to list the temple as a world landmark, prompting a flare-up of the long-standing dispute that resulted in both sides rushing troops to the border. Small battles ensued, which left at least seven soldiers dead and prompted brief concerns of war.

Thailand claimed the UNESCO decision undermined its claim to a small amount of adjacent land.

The Thai government requested UNESCO reconsider the listing before its recent annual meeting, but it put off a decision until early next year.

Thai government spokesman Supachai Jaisamut said yesterday the government had no immediate comment on Cambodia's celebrations but noted that "the listing has reignited an old conflict that is clearly not the purpose of UNESCO."

The border was calm yesterday but Cambodian troops were on the "highest alert," said Brigadier General Yim Pim, a front-line commander.

"I have ordered troops to be ready for fighting if there is any new entry from the Thai side," he said.

Cambodia and Thailand share an 800-kilometer land border, much of which has never been clearly demarcated because they use different maps.

The World Court awarded the Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.


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