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Associated Press – July 8, 2008
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodians celebrated in the streets Tuesday after their country succeeded in having an 11th century Hindu temple declared a World Heritage landmark despite objections in neighboring Thailand, which claims territory around the site.
Thousands danced, sang and waved Cambodian flags, chanting “Long live Preah Vihear temple!” in response to news that UNESCO had granted the temple World Heritage Site status.
“This is a very auspicious day for us. We’re delighted,” said Ti Vansi, a medical student who joined his peers in skipping class to hold a celebration rally.
In a statement Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen called the temple’s designation “a new pride for the people of Cambodia.”
UNESCO spokeswoman Joanna Sullivan said Monday the temple was designated a heritage site at a meeting in Quebec City.
The site of the building, which lies along the disputed Thai-Cambodian border, has long been a point of contention between the two Asian neighbors.
In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple and the land it occupies to Cambodia, a decision that still rankles Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor Wat in northwestern Cambodia.
Cambodia started seeking the World Heritage status for the temple in 2001, hoping for the influx of tourism and international funding that normally accompanies the designation. In the past, Thailand has vetoed its neighbor’s submissions amid fears the status would include disputed land along the border.
But in May, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s government bypassed Parliament and endorsed Cambodia’s application. Thai critics have accused him of violating the country’s sovereignty, and the government withdrew its support late last month.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has accused Thai opposition politicians of exploiting the cross-border dispute to advance their own domestic political agenda and warned they might endanger bilateral relations.
Tensions along the border boiled over last month when protesters threatened to evict Cambodians living in the disputed territory. Cambodia responded by closing access to the temple.
The new status for Preah Vihear temple “resulted from a very long and complicated process and negotiations,” Hun Sen said in his statement. In a reassurance to Thailand, he said it “does not affect” the negotiations to resolve problems of the border line between the two nations.
Since the temple controversy began, both countries have increased security around their embassies in the event that nationalist sentiment spins out of control.
In 2003, a Cambodian mob torched the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh following false reports that a Thai actress claimed the famed Angkor Wat complex belonged to Thailand.
Cambodian leaders also called on their citizens to be modest in their joy over Preah Vihear temple’s new status.
It is “a big success all of us should be proud of,” Hor Namhong said Tuesday. “But we should not do anything that will jeopardize … the friendship and cooperation between the two neighboring countries.”
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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