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A Hopeful, Careful Wait for Temple Protection

When Unesco's World Heritage committee meets in Canada next month, they will review an application for Preah Vihear temple that was the product of years of work and a delicate agreement between two neighbors.

The World Heritage application took seven years to complete, officials told reporters on Friday, and there is no clear sign it will be accepted at a meeting in Quebec from July 2 to July 12. Meanwhile, the two governments have reached a detante over the application, even if not all their citizens have.

"Up to now, there's no conflict between the Cambodian government and Thai government," Chan Tani, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers, said. "So far I do not see that there is a problem. But we must be careful to prevent the risk. If Preah Vihear is not admitted, it is still Cambodian property."

Cambodian and Thai delegations have been meeting since 2001 over Cambodia's desire to have the temple protected. An international court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but the border surrounding it, along a high cliff, remains disputed. In the end, it was a May 22 meeting in Paris between Council Minister Sok An and Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama that moved the application process forward.

The application brought many latent border anxieties between Cambodia and Thailand to the fore, and over the past week, protesters in Bangkok have accused the Thai government of giving land to Cambodia. Critics of the Cambodian position have said the government surrendered too much in its negotiations with Thailand over the application.

Cambodia has so far remained calm over the application, which included a map of the temples and a request that 30 meters of land surrounding each structure be included under Unesco's protection.

Ancient temples remain an emotional touchstone for many Cambodians. In 2003 Cambodian mobs looted and burned the Thai Embassy and other Thai businesses in Phnom Penh following rumors that a Thai actress claimed Angkor Wat should belong to Thailand.

Moeung Son, president of Eurasia Travel and president of the Khmer Civilization Support Fund, said he expects a successful application, because Cambodia proposed only its own temples to be protected as a World Heritage.