Court Blocks Thai Support For Temple Bid

Thailand’s Administrative Court on Saturday ordered the temporary suspension, “until the court rules otherwise,” of the Thai Cabinet’s June 17 resolution backing Cambo­dia’s bid to have the Preah Vihear temple made a World Heritage Site.

Cambodian officials are already in Canada preparing for Wednes­day’s opening of the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee, when they’ll lobby for a bid to have the temple inscribed on the heritage site list. In their injunction ruling, the Thai Administrative Court said Cambodia’s bid “might undermine Thailand’s future standing on the territorial dispute” concerning land around the temple, The Associated Press reported Saturday.

Teruo Jinnai, Cambodia country representative for Unesco, which serves as the secretariat for the World Heritage Committee, said it was up to the 21-nation committee to decide what the Thai court in­junction means for Cambodia’s heritage bid.

“At this stage, what I can say is to see how the committee will re­spond. I am also anxious to see the result,” he wrote by e-mail Sunday.

However, government adviser Pen Ngoeun said the Thai government still supports Cambodia’s bid to list the temple as a World Heri­tage Site, and Cambodia is not paying heed to Thailand’s “internal squabbling.”

Pen Ngoeun said the injunction does not undermine the past half-year of negotiations with Thailand.

“We still have a good relationship with the government of Thailand,” he said by telephone Sunday.

The Thai Cabinet will convene Tuesday to decide whether to ap­peal the court’s injunction, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and Interna­tional Studies at Chula­longkorn University in Bangkok.

If the Cabinet appeals the injunction, which was made at the re­quest of Thai opposition group the People’s Alliance for Democracy, Thitinan said it must “make the case to the people that this is not a sell-out.”

After the Thai Cabinet’s June 17 endorsement of Cambodia’s bid to list the cliff-top temple as a World Heritage Site, thousands of protesters rallied in Bangkok outside Thai government offices, and about 150 Thais demonstrated near the temple itself.

Yet the flare-up has less to do with legitimate concerns over losing land and more to do with the Thai opposition using the temple as a platform to criticize the incumbent government, Thitinan said by telephone from Thailand.

“The [People’s Alliance for Dem­ocracy] wants to bring down the government and is exploiting this temple controversy as something close to Thaksin’s sale of Shin Corp, which was the last straw that overthrew Thaksin’s government,” Thitinan said, referring to the 2006 coup that ousted then-Thai Prime Minister Thak­sin Shinawatra.

“This issue is being played up by anti-government groups who want to whip up nationalist sentiment,” he said.

However, Cambodia is justified in its bid to alone list Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site, Thitinan said, citing the Internation­al Court of Justice’s 1962 ruling that the temple belonged to Cambodia, not Thailand. “Cambodians do not want joint registration because they think it’s their temple, and rightly so.”

Thitinan said he believed the issue could snowball into violence in either Bangkok or Phnom Penh if the injunction is not resolved and the two governments don’t go public with more details about their ne­gotiations over the inscription bid.

“Potential for violence will grow as long as this matter is not settled amicably, acceptably by each side,” he said.

Police officials in Phnom Penh said Sunday they were on alert to quash any demonstrations that might arise in Phnom Penh in re­sponse to the temple issue.

Deputy National Police Com­mis­sioner Sok Phal said he’d heard rumors of forthcoming protests outside the Thai Em­bassy in Phnom Penh, but added that the government would not allow any demonstrations of the type that occurred in 2003, which led to the burning of the Thai Embassy.

Deputy municipal police chief Hy Pru said he would mobilize military police to break up any il­legal demonstrations.

The border at the Preah Vihear temple, which was shut June 23 following a small Thai protest, re­mains closed, Foreign Affairs Min­istry spokesman Sin Bunthoeun said Sunday.

On Saturday, another 150 Thais protested within 300 meters of the temple and held banners claiming the temple belonged to Thailand, said Hang Soth, secretary-general of the Preah Vihear Authority.

About 50 Thai security personnel were present to prevent the protesters from crossing the border, Hang Soth said.

On Friday, protesters gathered outside the Cambodian Em­bassy in Bangkok holding a banner to protest Cambodia’s heritage bid for the temple, the Bangkok Post reported. Sin Bunthoeun said his ministry is not concerned about security at the embassy.

Officials from the Thai Em­bassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment.


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