900-year-old temple on disputed Thai-Cambodia border named world heritage site

MONTREAL: An 11th-century temple that sits in a disputed border zone between Thailand and Cambodia has been named by U.N. officials as a world landmark.

UNESCO spokeswoman Joanna Sullivan said Monday that Preah Vihear was designated a heritage site at a meeting in Quebec City.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled Preah Vihear was located inside Cambodia's border, a decision opposed by many in Thailand.

Thai citizens were asked to donate money to help finance the country's push to defend the temple in the international court. The crumbling stone temple is a few hundred feet (meters) from Thailand's eastern border with Cambodia.

Cambodia has been trying to obtain the designation for the Khmer-style temple since 2001.

However, Thailand has vetoed its neighbor's previous submissions, fearing the status would include nearly five square kilometers of disputed land along the border.

In June, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama signed a joint communique with Cambodia, endorsing the country's bid to nominate the temple as a world heritage site.

But Thailand's Cabinet suspended its decision to support Cambodia's bid on July 1. The action had little effect on Preah Vihear's World Heritage application, since Cambodia does not need Thailand's support.

The dispute surrounding the ancient temple continues to fuel nationalist sentiment in Thailand.

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 temple's select status as a world heritage site will attract tourists and grants from the United Nations' World Heritage Fund.

Preah Vihear, a Hindu-themed temple that reflects the beliefs of the kings who ruled what was then the Angkorean empire, is located on the top of a 1,722-foot (525-meter) cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, about 150 miles (241 kilometers) north of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. Reaching it by road is easiest from the Thai side of the border.

The stone temple is revered partly for having one of the most stunning locations of all the temples constructed during the Khmer empire — the most famous of which is Angkor Wat.

As the Khmer empire, which once encompassed parts of Thailand and Vietnam, shrank to the size of present-day Cambodia and the country was plunged into civil war, the temple fell into disrepair. Steps, walls and pillars have collapsed.

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