An agreement on the management of the 13th-century Preah Vihear temple area that was signed last month by Cambodia and Thailand is drawing criticism from a top tourism official and a leading parliamentarian who say it was an “illegal act.”
So Mara, Cambodia’s general director for the Ministry of Tourism, and Somask Thepsutin, Thai cabinet minister and chairman of the Board of Directors for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, signed the agreement June 1 in Thailand.
Thong Khon, Secretary of State for Tourism, said he was not told So Mara, his subordinate, would be signing the agreement and that he had no authority to do so.
Funcinpec National Assembly lawmaker Nan Sy said Wednesday that the agreement was made “illegally” because So Mara agreed to allow Thailand to administer the management of the tourist and visitor facilities to the temple. He said it was also illegal because the signing of the agreement was made outside the country.
“This is a serious mistake,” Nan Sy said. “So Mara signed in the name of Cambodia, and it affects to the nation and our King who got Preah Vihear temple.”
The agreement states that Cambodia and Thailand will work together to manage the facilities and boost the potential for more visitors from both countries.
Allowing Thailand to help manage the facilities implies that Thailand can have an equal share in the temple, he said. But Cambodia—not Thailand—is the only owner of the Preah Vihear temple, he said.
“How come we are getting to share and manage equally with Thailand if we are owner of our temple?” he asked, adding that “It must be Cambodia itself that will administer the management of this tourism site.”
Thong Khon said the signing was illegal because So Mara did not have the authority to sign the agreement and because officials at the Ministry of Tourism were not informed of the signing.
“What So Mara did is really illegal because he needed to tell us [that he would sign the agreement],” Thong Khon said. “But as far as I know, the actual agreement might not be so wrong.”
Thong Khon said he met with So Mara to discuss the Preah Vihear contract in June after he learned that So Mara signed the agreement. He said So Mara “apologized for his mistake” during the meeting.
Between June 1, 1999, and April 30, 2000, 160,530 tourists visited the temple. Of the $132,669 collected in revenues, $38,007 was deposited to the Council of Ministers, $52,638 paid for expenditures to run the temples and $42,022 went to the Thai government, according to a report by the Preah Vihear Management Committee. So Mara is the committee’s head.
According to tourism and finance officials, Cambodia receives around 70 percent of the revenue generated from tourism at Preah Vihear temple. Thailand receives 30 percent.