Wednesday, July 8, 2009

First aniversary of Khmer Preah Vihear temple in UN World heritage

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodians on Tuesday noisily celebrated the first anniversary of the UN's world heritage listing of an ancient temple which has stoked nationalist tensions with neighbouring Thailand.

Posters of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple were plastered in pagodas, schools and prominent locations around the capital Phnom Penh while celebrators screamed, "Long Live Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site!"

"As Cambodian people, we are very proud of Preah Vihear temple. We must celebrate this day, it is historic for us," Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema said after a traditional dance ceremony at a pagoda in front of 1,000 people.

Waving colourful Cambodian flags, Buddhist monks, nuns, students and teachers gathered at pagodas and schools nationwide and promptly beat drums and rang bells at 11:00 am (0400 GMT) to herald the listing, officials said.

"I am very happy and proud of Preah Vihear temple. The temple belongs to Cambodia. Thailand has no right to claim it," said student Hang Dalune as at another event as hundreds of people sang and danced to nationalist songs, waving Cambodian flags.

Soldiers, villagers, monks and officials at Preah Vihear also celebrated the listing despite a standoff nearby between Cambodian and Thai troops, Cambodian commanders said.

The neighbouring countries have been at loggerheads over the land around the Preah Vihear temple for decades, but tensions spilled over into violence last July when the temple was granted UN World Heritage status.

Although the World Court ruled in 1962 that it belonged to Cambodia, the most accessible entrance to the ancient Khmer temple with its crumbling stone staircases and elegant carvings is from northeastern Thailand.

Thousands of people were also expected to gather in Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium Tuesday evening for an anniversary ceremony complete with a fireworks display, official speeches and patriotic songs.

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia worsened last month when Bangkok announced it would ask UNESCO to reconsider its decision to list Preah Vihear as a world heritage site, as the surrounding land is still in dispute.

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