The Thai government Tuesday withdrew its support for Cambodia’s bid to list Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site and Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has requested that the Cambodian government protect Thai nationals living in Cambodia, media in Thailand reported.
The decision follows the Administrative Court of Thailand’s ruling Saturday to suspend endorsement of Cambodia’s bid to list the temple amid protests by senators and anti-government elements in Bangkok.
According to the Thai News Agency, Samak called Prime Minister Hun Sen from Beijing, where he is currently traveling, to inform him of the court’s order and ask him to guarantee the safety of Thais living in Cambodia.
But Council of Ministers adviser Pen Ngoeun said Tuesday that the Thai Cabinet has not officially informed Phnom Penh of the reported decision.
In the absence of such notification, Pen Ngoeun said Cambodia still considers that it retains Bangkok’s legal endorsement, and that its bid to list the temple as a heritage site next week in Quebec, Canada, will be successful.
“The World Heritage Committee has seen what has been the efforts of the Cambodian people and what has happened with Thailand,” he said.
“I believe there is a good case showing that we have done things according to the rule and to the guideline of Unesco,” he added, referring to the UN secretariat of the heritage committee.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the Thai Cabinet’s announcement did not reflect the wishes of Samak because he is outside the country.
The withdrawal of support reflected the views of Thai opposition groups, who are stirring up nationalist sentiment and are unaware that the bid to list Preah Vihear had nothing to do with claims to undemarcated border territory.
If Thai opposition groups continue to protest the listing, Khieu Kanharith said Cambodia might keep the access gate to the temple from Thailand closed indefinitely. Temple visitors will only then be able to travel to Preah Vihear from Cambodia, he said.
“Maybe we can close the border to Preah Vihear forever,” he said, warning local opposition parties not to use the temple issue as a platform for their own political agenda.
On June 23, Thai demonstrators protesting Bangkok’s support of the temple’s listing forced Cambodian authorities to block access to Preah Vihear from the Thai side of the border.
The border gate will remain closed until all Thai demonstrators leave the area, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Sin Bunthoeun said Tuesday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday that the government does not want a repeat of the anti-Thai riots of 2003, which were set off by an unfounded rumor that a Thai TV star had claimed Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.
Though the situation is calm, the election season has heightened emotions and political parties might try to take advantage of anti-Thai sentiments, Khieu Sopheak said.
“The situation is under the control of the government. We guarantee the safety of the Thai people. We will do all the best we can do,” Khieu Sopheak said by telephone.
“[Anti-Thai riots] will not happen again. We have learned this lesson already,” he added.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said that he ordered more officers to bolster security at the Thai Embassy, which was destroyed by fire during the 2003 riots.
“We will crack down on any illegal demonstrations against the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh,” Touch Naruth said.
About 20 military police officers were seen stationed opposite the embassy Tuesday night.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Thai diplomat said the embassy first requested additional police protection Thursday, as had the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok.
“Sure, we are afraid,” the embassy official said by telephone Tuesday. “We think there may be demonstrations,” he added.
A 47-page glossy report on the bid to list Preah Vihear, which was published by the Council of Ministers last month, details five unique instances when Thai officials confirmed Thailand’s support for Cam bodia on the temple issue.
According to the report, which is available on the Council of Ministers’ Web site, during the past year, two members of the 21-nation World Heritage Committee—the US and China—have aided Cambodia in preparing its reports detailing future conservation and management of Preah Vihear temple.
Commenting on the situation Tuesday, Chinese Embassy Third Secretary Qian Hai urged both sides to find a peaceful resolution.
“We do not want any violence because Cambodia and Thailand are our good neighbors and friends. We hope they can solve this through peaceful, mutually beneficial ways,” Qian said by telephone.
The US Embassy declined to comment.
Preah Vihear National Authority Secretary-General Hang Soth said Tuesday that he did not see the border gate at the temple opening anytime soon.
About 10 Thai demonstrators remain camped on the Thai side of the border, Hang Soth said. He also questioned why officials in the neighboring Thai province of Sisaket were not taking appropriate action against the protesters but at the same time were calling for the gate to be reopened to Preah Vihear.
“Why do they want to open the border when they don’t crack down on the protesters yet?” he said by telephone.