Hundreds of Thai protesters gathered yesterday at the Unesco office in Bangkok, where they submitted a petition opposing the 2008 listing of Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site, Thai media reported.
Retired Thai army general Chamlong Srimuang, a senior leader of the ‘yellow shirt’ People’s Alliance for Democracy, led the rally, according to the MCOT English news website. Gen Chamlong was quoted as saying that the protesters opposed Cambodia’s management plan for the 11th-century temple, as they were worried Thailand might lose territory if the scheme is endorsed by the World Heritage Committee.
The Unesco committee is currently meeting in Brazil, where Cambodia’s management plan for the temple may come up for discussion. Thai and Cambodian troops have faced off on the border near the temple since it was named a World Heritage Site by the committee in 2008. Thailand claims a nearby 4.6-square-km piece of land.
The 20-page document submitted by the protesters presented “facts” to “encourage parties involved in the inscription of the temple of Phra Viharn on the World Heritage list to rectify these shameful and wrongful acts and to prevent a repeat of this occurrence on other properties,” according to a copy of the petition. Phra Viharn is the Thai name for Preah Vihear.
The note said the 2008 listing is “against the spirit of the convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage,” referring to the 1972 Unesco convention that created the World Heritage Site program.
In an e-mail yesterday, Unesco spokeswoman Sue Williams said Cambodian’s management plan may or may not come up for discussion at the meeting in Brazil.
“If it comes up, the committee is likely to discuss Preah Vihear late Wednesday or Thursday, during the state of conservation discussions,” she wrote. “If they choose to do so, the Thais can certainly raise their concerns. However, it’s difficult to say how the committee will deal with the situation at this point.”
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has repeatedly said Thailand will oppose Cambodia’s management plan for the temple. The premier made similar remarks before last year’s World Heritage Committee meeting, although the subject was never broached.
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters at the Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday that Thai efforts to change the World Heritage listing have come too late.
“I think this protest is out of date. The listing of Preah Vihear on the World Heritage List is already done and moved forward,” he said.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn referred questions yesterday to Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Thani Thongphakdi, who could not be reached for comment.