Amid a war of words between Cambodia and Thailand over the management of the Preah Vihear temple at the two countries’ shared border, the head of Unesco yesterday called for dialogue.
A Cambodian plan for the temple’s management was slated for discussion at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Brazil this week. Hundreds of Thai protesters gathered at Unesco offices in Bangkok on Tuesday to protest the heritage committee’s 2008 recognition of the temple as a Cambodian World Heritage Site. Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva has also vowed to oppose the Cambodian management plan.
In a statement yesterday, Unesco said its director-general, Irina Bokova, believed “the first concern of the World Heritage Committee is to protect and promote our heritage, and this with full respect and without prejudice to the sovereignty of member states or to any territorial claims.”
The Thai news agency MCOT reported yesterday that Mr Abhisit had said the Thai delegation would walk out of the meeting if it endorses the plan. MCOT also said the Thai Cabinet “resolved to oppose Cambodia’s management plan”.
But in an e-mail yesterday, Unesco spokeswoman Sue Williams cast doubt on Thailand’s ability to oppose the plan, which has already been submitted. The World Heritage Committee is only set to consider a progress report on this scheme, she said.
“At its session last year, the [World Heritage] Committee requested a progress report from Cambodia on the management plan for Preah Vihear,” she wrote. “The committee will consider this report at its present session, as part of its function to monitor the state of conservation of world heritage sites. It does not have the capacity to adopt or approve such a plan.”
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the recent statements from the Thai government are an attempt to use the border issue to gain support.
“Thailand already lost face in the international forum, so it cannot stand losing face to its nation,” he said. “That is why they try to do that, since they are afraid they might lose in the next coming election.”