Authorities Assist Thirsty Khmer Temple Guards

cambodia-preah-vihear-pond-feb-2013.PNG One of two ancient ponds that security personnel use to draw water near Preah Vihear temple, Feb. 15, 2013.

A drought has nearly dried up two ponds and restricted water supply to security personnel guarding an ancient Cambodian temple along the border with Thailand, prompting authorities to undertake contingency measures to ease the water shortage, according to sources.

Guards and police officers stationed around Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province said they have endured extremely limited access to water since the beginning of the year after the ponds had nearly dried up and the pumps used to bring the water up into the hills where they are stationed had failed.

A guard who spoke to RFA’s Khmer Service on condition of anonymity said that members of his team had been reduced to bathing only once every two to three days.

“We don’t even have enough water to cook rice,” he said.

A police officer said that water is extremely difficult to transport into the hills and that the shortage had become  even more acute due to the weather this time of year.

“We don’t have enough water because of the dry season,” he said.

Security personnel told RFA that the government had only repaired the pumps and provided them with trucks to transport water from other nearby sources after they complained to RFA about the drastic shortage for a broadcast aired last week.

Following the broadcast, the Ministry of Interior accused RFA of endangering national security by making information about the water shortage public.

“You can broadcast any information you want, but when the news concerns national security, please consider the national interest first,” Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said.

“Please don’t give swords to our enemies. I would like to deny RFA’s report that soldiers didn’t have enough water.”

In July last year, Cambodia and Thailand withdrew troops from a disputed area near Preah Vihear temple which had been the site of deadly cross-border clashes, honoring a ruling handed down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2011.

Some 500 Cambodian troops were redeployed from four separate locations near the border, and around 300 police and guards were sent to protect the temple site in their stead.

Cambodian Center for Human Rights Director Ou Virak said Thursday that without media attention, the guards and police officers would have continued to suffer from a lack of water.

“The security force will face serious problems if they don’t have water and a skirmish breaks out,” he said.

Cambodia continues to administer the thousand-year-old Hindu temple, which the ICJ awarded to Cambodia in a ruling in 1962.

Cambodia and Thailand had exchanged several rounds of fire since 2008, when the temple, located atop a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tensions have eased with the installation of a new Thai government that is more sympathetic to Cambodia, but both countries still have disputing claims to the 4.6 square kilometers (1.8 square miles) of land around the temple.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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