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Thailand rejects UN visit to temple

BANGKOK, Feb 10 – Thailand opposes a proposed visit by the world heritage body UNESCO to inspect an ancient temple at the centre of a deadly border dispute with Cambodia, a government official said Thursday.

"Because of the current situation at the border, we believe that a UNESCO mission now would not be appropriate and could complicate the issue," said Thai foreign ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi.

"But if UNESCO wishes to visit the temple, it should seek the approval of Thailand as the mission would have to go through areas which are under our sovereignty," he told AFP.

The 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, built to honour the Hindu god Shiva, has been a source of contention between Thailand and Cambodia since it was granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that the clifftop structure belonged to Cambodia but both countries claim ownership of a 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) surrounding area.

Cambodia said on Sunday that a wing of Preah Vihear had collapsed due to Thai artillery shelling.

An AFP photographer who visited the site following four days of cross-border shelling in the area said that shrapnel and artillery fire appeared to have scarred the temple but no major structural damage was visible.

UNESCO said Tuesday that it was planning a mission to the area "as soon as possible" to assess the state of the temple, the most celebrated example of ancient Khmer architecture outside of Cambodia\’s Angkor Wat.

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