Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thailand says temple plan 'unacceptable' in dispute with Cambodia

News Desk
The Nation (Thailand)
Publication Date : 29-07-2010
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Wednesday (July 28) considered options to retaliate against Unesco if the World Heritage Committee approved the controversial Preah Vihear temple management plan although the United Nations agency has guaranteed that the Hindu temple's inscription has nothing to do with the disputed border areas with Cambodia.

Among the options suggested by ministers was for Natural Resource and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who will be at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Brazil, to stage a walkout, and withdraw Thailand's membership from the Unesco committee.

Abhisit blamed the Unesco committee for listing Preah Vihear, which had created conflict between the two neighbouring countries. "If Unesco accepts the plan, it will create a wide rift between the people of the two countries," he was quoted by a source as saying at the Cabinet meeting.

The issue of the world heritage designation for Preah Vihear heated up after the pro-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protested in front of the Unesco regional office in Bangkok on Tuesday over its fear of losing territory.

Abhisit took the PAD line and instructed Suwit to lobby for a delay of the Preah Vihear management plan until the border dispute with Cambodia could be settled.

The Hindu temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under Cambodian sovereignty, according to a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 1962. Thailand claimed sovereignty over the areas adjacent to the temple. The two countries are now in the process of demarcating the border, but have made little progress so far.

The PAD and Abhisit are concerned that Cambodia might treat the disputed areas as a buffer zone of the listed temple.

"There are many points in the plan that we cannot accept, notably what has shown in the graphic," Abhisit said, without elaborating whether it included the disputed area. However, the premier gave contradicting information, as he also said the plan mostly focused on the areas to the south of the temple, which is under Cambodian sovereignty and over which Thailand has never made claims.

The World Heritage Committee, since 2008, has made it clear that the area proposed by Cambodia does not include the areas to the north and the west of the temple that are the subject of a territorial dispute with Thailand.

Unesco director-general Irina Bokova Wednesday called for a dialogue on safeguarding Preah Vihear and underscored the role of the 1972 World Heritage Convention as an instrument for international cooperation.

Referring to her recent meetings with representatives of Cambodia and Thailand, Bokova said in her statement issued from Paris that the first concern of the World Heritage Committee was to protect and promote heritage, and this with full respect and without prejudice to the sovereignty of member states or to any territorial claims.

"Protecting and enhancing our natural and cultural heritage, means building the peace, respect and solidarity which lies at the heart of Unesco's mission. It is our common responsibility to make these sites emblems of peace, dialogue and reconciliation," she said.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Preah Vihear had already been designated as a World Heritage Site. "Whatever Thailand is doing, this cannot be changed," he was quoted as saying by The Phnom Penh Post.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said at the Cabinet meeting Wednesday that international organisations had been unfair to Thailand and not transparent. Such practice created conflicts among countries. Academics from some superpower nations have personal interests in the World Heritage designation, he said.

However, Kasit said the option of withdrawing Thai membership from the Unesco committee was not an easy one, and would take time. The idea of withdrawal was discussed widely, since it might affect Thailand's cultural and natural properties included on the world heritage list.

At the end of the Cabinet meeting, Abhisit concluded that Thailand would not accept the Preah Vihear management plan and the government would review its membership of the Unesco committee. He said Suwit would make the decision on whether he should walk out of the Brazil meeting to protest against the decision of the World Heritage Committee.

Kasit has been told to write to Unesco about Thailand's disapproval of the Preah Vihear management plan.

Pongpol Adireksarn, former chairman of the Thai National World Heritage Committee, said separately that the Thai delegation should look at the Preah Vihear management plan in detail before making any decision to oppose it.

Minister Suwit and the Cabinet should be well prepared before the meeting and should employ diplomatic ways to communicate with the World Heritage Committee rather than acting impulsively, he said.

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