On 4 February 2011, the ancient Hindu temple at Preah Vihear in Cambodia, virtually on its border with Thailand, was once again transformed into hell’s own World Heritage Site. At least 10 people have died in the following weeks, after Thai and Cambodian troops stationed around the temple began exchanging 105 mm artillery fire and BM-21 multiple rocket launchers, respectively, in three areas adjacent to the temple, and Cambodia claims that a wing of the temple has collapsed as a result of Thai artillery bombardment.
Although they have never been model neighbours, Thailand and Cambodia have been at each other’s throats since UNESCO inscribed Preah Vihear temple on the list of World Heritage Sites in 2008, prompting protest in Thailand and triggering the current build-up of troops along the border. Thailand says the land surrounding the temple is Thai soil (the temple’s main entrance is in Thailand and land adjacent to the temple is claimed by both countries). Cambodia can claim that UNESCO, the International Court of Justice at The Hague (in a 1962 ruling), and a French colonial map dated 1907 say it isn’t.
The February attacks were the fiercest since 2008. After each clash, both countries have accused the other of firing first into populated areas. Despite intense regional diplomatic pressure to lay down arms, the ceasefire at Preah Vihear will remain fragile as long as Thai and Cambodian nationalists keep fingering the dispute to further their own political agendas.