A Thai anti-corruption body voted Tuesday to bring criminal charges against two former senior officials for pledging government support to Cambodia in its efforts to list the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site, according to Thai news reports.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission claims former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and former Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama neglected their duties by bypassing parliamentary approval when they signed a joint communique with Cambodia stating Thailand would support the world heritage inscription of the 11th-century temple as proposed by Cambodia.
The joint statement, signed June 18, 2008, by Cambodian Cabinet Minister Sok An and Mr Noppadon as well as Unesco’s Assistant Director-General for Culture Francoise Riviere, said Thailand would back the registration even though the shared border was not fully demarcated.
However, the temple’s subsequent listing as a World Heritage Site on July 8, 2008, left certain Thai political factions smarting. Since then, various groups have accused the Thai government of inactivity and incompetence on the issue.
The nine-member NACC panel in Bangkok voted 6 to 3 in favor of pursuing charges, the English-language Bangkok Post newspaper reported, and the two men could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
“Mr Samak, as head of the government, must have been aware the issue was sensitive and could affect the country’s territory and lead to a social crisis,” the newspaper quoted NACC spokesman Klanarong Chantik as saying.
Spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Koy Kuong said yesterday that the decision by the anti-graft agency matters little in Cambodia. He said the temple still belongs to Cambodia and that any quibbling in Thailand over its listing was an internal problem.
“This action in Thailand now does not affect Cambodia today,” he said. “It is just an internal affair.”
Mr Kuong said that although some are upset over the monument’s historic status, he added the majority of the fuss is coming from an over-zealous minority.
“To a certain extent, they may be upset by the listing,” he said. “I just think [those upset are] only a small group of extremists.”
Chairman for the Cambodian National Assembly’s commission on foreign affairs, Chheng Von, said the political problems since the Thai coup in 2006 are affecting Cambodia as Thailand links the ongoing border dispute to its domestic politics. He accused Thailand of drawing up and selecting its own maps to help settle the row in its favor.
“Thais right now make their own personal map to get the 4.6-square-km from Cambodia,” he said, referring to the disputed zone around Preah Vihear temple. “They are invading Cambodia if they continue to try to get the land from Cambodia.”
Officials with the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh were out of the office yesterday.
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)