Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cambodia says it is winner in battle over UN review of border temple management plan

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia declared victory Friday in a diplomatic standoff with Thailand after the U.N. cultural agency agreed to consider its plan for managing a temple that is on land claimed by both countries.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said that Cambodia had achieved its goal when UNESCO's World Heritage Commission agreed on Thursday to consider its plan for the Preah Vihear temple on the border with Thailand.

However, UNESCO's decision to defer the matter to its meeting next year takes pressure off both countries.

Thailand, which claims the plan jeopardizes its claim to disputed territory, had threatened to quit UNESCO if the plan was endorsed at Thursday's meeting in Brazil. Thai officials said they viewed the postponement of the plan's consideration as progress.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled the 10th-century border temple belongs to Cambodia, rejecting Thai claims. UNESCO — over Thai objections — named Preah Vihear a World Heritage site in 2008, after Cambodia applied for the status. Cambodia's World Heritage bid reignited Thai resentment over the earlier ruling, and there have been small and sometimes deadly armed clashes in the area during the past few years.

Leaders of both countries have used the issue to stir up nationalist sentiment and shore up domestic political support. In Thailand, nationalist pressure groups demonstrated this week for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to take a hard line against Cambodia and UNESCO. The two sides' military leaders spoke about strengthening their respective forces at the border in preparation for any incursions from the other side.

Sok An led the Cambodian delegation at the UNESCO meeting, and spoke by satellite from Brazil live on television.

"UNESCO has officially accepted our management plan documents, so there is no need to have a further discussion or voting," Sok An said. "The result of the meeting is a big victory for Cambodia, a result we have been waiting for."

Thai officials insist that demarcation of the disputed land must come before UNESCO endorses any management plan.

"How we're going to move forward is a matter to be discussed by both sides," said Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova released a statement earlier this week calling for dialogue between the two countries. "It is our common responsibility to make these sites emblems of peace, dialogue and reconciliation," she said.

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