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Cambodian delegates to maintain cool at World Heritage meet

Thailand is threatening to challenge the listing of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site, but officials say they will not be drawn into a fight

DESPITE threats of a challenge from Thailand, officials say they will avoid discussing the tense border situation during a meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee that began in Seville, Spain, on Monday.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told the Post that Deputy Prime Minister Sok An would seek to avoid conflict, instead telling attendees about the Kingdom's plans for conserving and developing the 11th-century temple and the surrounding areas.

But he added that Cambodia "reserves the right to respond to questions from country members and defend itself against provocations from the Thai delegation on issues relating to Preah Vihear".

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced Wednesday that Bangkok would use the committee's 33rd session to challenge the validity of its July 2008 decision to list Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site.

UNESCO OFFICIALS ARE WONDERING AT THE THAI PRIME MINISTER'S ATTITUDE.

The committee's decision to inscribe the temple scuttled Thai hopes for a joint Thai-Cambodian submission to UNESCO and triggered a troop buildup and an escalation of tensions at the border.

Thai threats

Phay Siphan also quoted Sok An as saying that Abhisit had threatened UNESCO staff over the issue of Preah Vihear.

"Minister Sok An told me that [Abhisit] ... said the [World Heritage] status is the source of the border dispute," he said.

"UNESCO officials are wondering about the Thai prime minister's attitude. He has no right to threaten them because they work for the UN."

Bun Uy, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, said on Monday that the decision to award the status was made by UNESCO, and that as Cambodia had done nothing wrong, there was no reason to de-list the temple.

"Why does Thailand demand that UNESCO withdraw it?" Bun Uy asked. "What the Thai prime minister wants is just to show his party and supporters that he has tried to regain the temple."

Cambodia was awarded Preah Vihear temple by the World Court in 1962, but possession of the border area around the temple was never settled. At least seven soldiers on both sides have died in clashes in the area in the past year.

The government has sent reinforcements to the contested area on the northern border with Thailand. Sem Sophally, a resident of Sa Em village near the temple, said Monday that he had seen numerous RCAF trucks carrying soldiers heading to Preah Vihear the previous day.

"I was told they were sent there to reinforce the front line in the event of armed clashes with Thai soldiers," he said.

The army has constructed a number of military bases in villages near the temple, a source of national pride, over the past year. Srey Doek, the commander of RCAF Division 3, said Monday that the current situation is normal, but that his soldiers are on alert.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NETH PHEAKTRA

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