Fear and hope at border temple in Cambodia

Fear and hope at border temple in Cambodia

A damp chill cloaks this plateau some 500m above sea level. Fifty- year-old Oum Thang, swathed in a turtleneck shirt, scarf, overcoat, hat and cotton gloves, carefully sweeps up the debris left behind by tourists at a mountain-top temple.

It's a serene morning at Prasat Preah Vihear, a World Heritage site that sits on the border of eastern Thailand and northern Cambodia.

But she feels uneasy. It was just two years ago that she crouched by the cliff edge as Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged mortar fire that roared terrifyingly close.

"I prayed and prayed," she recalls. Villagers huddled next to her wept as they watched their shops burn to the ground in the distance.

Such is the troubled legacy of this Hindu temple, which was built more than 1,000 years ago by the Khmer empire but continues to loom large in a tussle between Thailand and Cambodia today.

The French colonial administration deemed the monument within Cambodian territory, but Thailand occupied it in 1954 after France withdrew from the region.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia. But the dispute over its surrounds remained, and - worsened by nationalist posturing - erupted in armed clashes between 2008 and 2011 that killed more than 20 people.

Two weeks ago, the ICJ convened again to clarify its 1962 ruling and ordered Thai troops out of the "vicinity" of the temple.

Still, the court chose to define the plot only by geological features such as slopes, escarpments and valleys, leaving both nations to demarcate the exact boundary.

While both sides have pledged to keep the peace, the Thai government says its troops will not move out until both countries work out this boundary. Neither will the Thai World Heritage Committee agree to any management plan for the temple before this bilateral negotiation is completed.

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