A War of Words Over Preah Vihear Management Plan

The Cambodian government was at odds on Friday with Thai media reports that claimed Thailand had gained the upper hand in resisting the approval of a management plan for the Preah Vihear temple, which was submitted this week by Cambodia to the World Heritage Committee at a meeting held in Brazil.

The press and quick reaction unit of the Council of Ministers said in a statement on Friday that the World Heritage Committee “further welcomes the steps taken by the [Cambodia] towards the establishment of an international coordinating committee for the sustainable conservation of the Temple.”

Cambodia is one of 21 member states present at the 34th session of the World Heritage Committee, and must submit annual updates to the committee showing what measures are being adopted to conserve listed heritage sites. Preah Vihear temple was officially made a heritage site in July 2008.

“It is pretty clear that we have made a large achievement as the committee has accepted our documents and will consider it for the next meeting in 2011,” said Keo Remy, vice chairman of the press and quick reaction unit.

But a report in the Bangkok Post on Friday reported that the World Heritage Committee had actually “postponed” consideration of Cambodia’s management plan until next year’s committee meeting in Bahrain, a decision described by the newspaper as a “victory” for Thailand.

The English-language newspaper also reported that Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya had written a “strongly worded letter” to the World Heritage Committee outlining objections to Cambodia’s management plan for the Preah Vihear temple.

A Unesco spokeswoman confirmed on Friday that the World Heritage Committee had no power to approve the management plan, and that Cambodia was only submitting a progress report at the meeting.

“Members of Unesco’s World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia, today adopted a decision supported by both Cambodia and Thailand concerning the World Heritage site of Preah Vihear,” the World Heritage Committee said in a statement on Friday. “The decision, submitted by the World Heritage Committee Chairperson and Brazilian Minister of Culture Juca Ferreira and supported by the delegations of Cambodia and Thailand, took note that Unesco’s World Heritage Centre had received documents submitted by Cambodia, which would be considered by the Committee at its 35th session in 2011.”

“The Decision also welcomed steps taken by Cambodia towards the establishment of an international coordinating committee for the sustainable conservation of the Temple of Preah Vihear,” the statement added.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that Unesco had no role to play in approving the management plan for the temple submitted by Cambodia.

“They have the job to monitor. They do not have the role to approve or not approve,” he said.

He added that the management plan submitted by the government consisted of recommendations on the temple’s upkeep as well as details on how the government was retaining the temple’s status as a world heritage site.

“The Thai voice that they have postponed or not approved is not right,” he said.

Mr Siphan said that he had heard reports that Thailand had sent about 1,000 soldiers to the border area on Thursday and that Cambodian armed forces were positioned ready in case any Thai soldiers crossed the border.

“They’re on high alert,” he said.

Cabinet Minister Sok An said yesterday in a live television broadcast from Brazil that claims from Thailand that Cambodia was falling behind in its ability to submit a management plan for the temple were baseless.

“Whatever they [Thailand] have done it is just a lie, not a fact – to confuse the public,” Mr Sok An said. The World Heritage Committee was “proud and impressed about the detail and concrete plans that we submitted.”

Tensions have reignited on several occasions at the temple since July 2008 when Thai protesters broke through a closed border checkpoint into Cambodia, dangerously straining relations between the two nations and sparking the Thai military’s incursion into the dispute territory around the temple.

Tensions again mounted this week as hundreds of Thai protestors gathered at the Unesco office in Bangkok on Tuesday, where they submitted a petition opposing the 2008 listing of Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site.

Retired Thai army general Chamlong Srimuang, a senior leader of the ‘yellow shirt’ People’s Alliance for Democracy, reportedly led the rally.

General Chea Dara, deputy RCAF commander-in-chief, said late Friday that Thailand had warned it would send more troops to the border area, though the situation was currently peaceful. However, he added, Cambodian troops have been put on high alert.

“We will never let Thailand invade even a millimeter of our land,” he said. “At this hour are troops are capable and ready to protect the country.”


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