UNESCO’s director-general has expressed “disappointment” after three days of talks between Cambodia and Thailand on the protection of Preah Vihear temple ended in no result, while an international court is set to hear related arguments in The Hague today.
In a statement issued on Friday, UNESCO said its director-general, Irina Bokova, had “voiced her disappointment at the fact that no agreement was reached” on “concrete steps” to preserve the temple ahead of an upcoming World Heritage Committee session slated for June 19-29.
“I appeal to both countries to pursue efforts towards achieving a common agreement before the World Heritage Committee session in June in a spirit of cooperation and constructive dialogue,” Bokova said.
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who headed the Cambodian delegation to the Paris talks, and his Thai counterpart Suwit Khunkitti, Bangkok’s Minister of Environment, both attempted to put a positive spin on the meeting.
“There was no actual result, but it was fruitful preparation for the upcoming meeting at which UNESCO will examine the state of conservation [at Preah Vihear],” Sok An told reporters at Pochentong airport upon his return yesterday.
Sok An said he had presented evidence of damage to the 11th-century temple and had rejected a request by Thailand to withdraw Cambodia’s proposed management plan for the World Heritage site.
“We saw that all the requests by Thailand [to UNESCO] were not successful,” he claimed. “Thailand seems to be defeated from the meeting.”
Suwit, however, said Cambodia and Thailand would meet bilaterally to consider the management plan ahead of next month’s World Heritage Committee meeting, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday. Suwit said consideration of the management plan for the temple should be postponed until the border is fully demarcated by the countries’ bilateral Joint Border Committee.
In related news, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong left on Friday to attend hearings on the border dispute at the International Court of Justice scheduled for today and tomorrow, ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday. The ICJ ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia. Earlier this month, Cambodia asked the ICJ to reinterpret this judgment to bear on the surrounding territory, and in the interim, to order all Thai troops to withdraw from “those parts of Cambodian territory situated in the area” of the temple.
Deadly clashes that killed at least 10 people broke out between the two sides in February near Preah Vihear. Clashes broke out again along the border near Oddar Meanchey province last month, killing at least 18.
Although tensions in the area have largely eased, a Thai soldier was arrested in Oddar Meanchey province on Thursday and accused of spying on Cambodian artillery positions along with an alleged Cambodian accomplice, a military intelligence official yesterday.
Chea Samrach, an official at the Banteay Ampil district intelligence unit, said he had apprehended the two men on Thursday after they had tried to escape by motorbike, adding that the Thai suspect had been identified as a military official.
An Oddar Meanchey police official who declined to be named said the suspects had been sent to the provincial military office, though he refused to provide any further details.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA AND THOMAS MILLER