Parties Failing To See Eye to Eye Over Temple

Despite the Unesco World Heritage Committee’s stated desire that Cambodia and Thailand should work closely to resolve their respective differences over the management of Preah Vihear temple, both countries yesterday remained at an impasse.

Both countries signed a “compromise draft decision” at a World Heritage Committee meeting in Brazil on Thursday, agreeing that consideration of Cambodia’s management plan for Preah Vihear temple would not occur until next year’s committee meeting in Bahrain.

After the signing, World Heritage Committee President Juca Ferreira hailed the draft decision as a “great victory” that would allow the two parties to spend a year coming to an agreement over the temple.

But in a statement yesterday, the press and quick reaction unit of the Council of Ministers denounced Thai government efforts to sway international public opinion in their favor through the news media.

Several newspaper reports out of Thailand over the weekend quoted anonymous Thai government sources as saying that the Thai delegation in Brazil had managed to derail the discussion of the Preah Vihear temple management plan.

“The Thai intoxication campaigns’ spending B10 millions with the dispatch of 50 delegates [to the Brazil meeting] in order to oppose the management plan at the site of the Cambodian temple of Preah Vihear was a total debacle,” the Council of Ministers statement said.

“Thailand has failed in its attempts to derail the management plan, failed in its efforts to have the temple inscribed by the two countries and failed in its efforts to have joint management of the temple.”

Officials from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to answer questions yesterday. The Thai government’s public relations department, however, issued a statement, saying that the Thai delegation in Brazil had “stressed its stance that the inclusion of the temple of Phra Viharn on the World Heritage List should be agreed jointly by Thailand and Cambodia.”

“Phra Viharn” is a Thai name for the temple not recognized by Cambodia and Cambodia has repeatedly rejected joint management of the site.

In other news reports from Thai government-backed news agencies yesterday, Thai officials claimed that Cambodia had agreed to send Thailand its complete temple management plan next month. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, however, rejected the claims yesterday, saying that only the World Heritage Committee could decide to send documents to Thailand.

“They have no right to force Cambodia to do anything,” Mr Siphan said.

A participant at the meeting in Brazil, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said yesterday that the Cambodian management plan had gone out of its way to assuage Thailand’s concerns.

“They really did make an effort to come to the table with something that would please the Thais,” the participant said.

“The Thais did not want that management plan brought before a committee. The plan covered only the area around the temple that is inside Cambodian territory…. It did not concern Thai territory at all.”

The participant said that members of the committee still held out hope that the two countries would be able to work together but acknowledged that recent media reports about the issue were troubling.

In an open letter to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva sent yesterday, Cambodian Prince Sisowath Thomico appealed for Thailand to steer away from pandering to extreme nationalists.

“Both our populations are easily stirred by the ultra-nationalistic rhetoric of a minority,” Prince Thomico wrote. “But a calm appraisal of history should make it clear that the territorial claims that have so animated the recent popular and political discourse in Thailand have no basis.”


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