Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva this weekend repeated his government’s threat to block Cambodia’s management plan for Preah Vihear temple at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee later this month, a Thai news agency reported yesterday.
The premier’s tough words came a week before the World Heritage Committee-which Cambodia and Thailand both joined last year-convenes Sunday for its annual meeting in Brazil.
According to the website of the Mass Communications Organization of Thailand, Mr Abhisit said Thailand “would continue to object [to] a management plan around the 11th Century temple” while the two countries “still have to resolve their border demarcation problem”
The Thai government has also reportedly urged fellow committee members not to approve the management plan until the dispute is settled.
Both countries lay claim to a nearby 4.6 square km of land along their shared border. Thai news reports have claimed the management plan includes the disputed area, though Cambodia has not released any details of the plan.
The Bangkok Post reported also on Saturday that Thailand intends to oppose Cambodia’s management plan. According to the newspaper, the Thai government’s culture and heritage committee also decided on Friday to maintain its stance against the temple’s 2008 inscription on the World Heritage list.
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya made similar statements about the temple in the past week.
Cambodian Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that Mr Abhisit’s remarks revealed Thailand’s “greed” and “bad” intentions when it came to the temple. “The management plan takes place in Cambodia. Nothing touches Thai territory,” Mr Kuong said. “Why do they have to object and worry?”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan accused Thailand by its actions of trying to undermine not only Cambodia, but the World Heritage Committee as a whole.
“I regret that [Mr Abhisit] uses his position as prime minister to not follow the authority of the World Heritage Committee,” Mr Siphan said. “This is breaching the sovereignty of the” of the World Heritage Committee.
The World Heritage Committee’s website has no schedule yet of its forthcoming meeting in Brazil, and local officials for the UN cultural agency Unesco, which oversees the committee, could not be reached yesterday. But according to Mr Siphan, Thailand will have no chance of blocking the plan because it won’t be up for vote. He said a team of experts at the meeting would only be offering their technical recommendations.
“It is a technical committee and they are experts with the temple. They don’t do anything with the border issue,” Mr Siphan said. “Thailand has nothing to do with this.”
Culture Ministry Secretary of State Chuch Phoeung, who chairs the government’s Preah Vihear Authority, said most of the 10-day meeting will be taken up by proposals for new World Heritage Sites and a recap of last year’s WHC meeting in Spain.
Ahead of the 2009 meeting, Mr Abhisit announced Thailand’s intentions to ask the WHC to de-register Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site and re-register the Khmer temple under joint Thai-Cambodian supervision. The committee adjourned without broaching the idea, however.
Thai officials in Bangkok have been unavailable for comment.