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Thai officials threaten Preah Vihear walkout

4b preah vihear
Cambodian soldiers walk at the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple in 2011. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Thai officials are threatening to walk out of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meeting this summer if management plans for the disputed Preah Vihear temple come up for discussion.

Permanent secretary for natural resources and the environment Chote Trachoo said the delegation met on Wednesday “to send this message to Cambodia”, according to the Bangkok Post.

What Thailand apparently wants is for Cambodia to avoid talking about Preah Vihear until the International Court of Justice announces its decision over a contested 4.6-square kilometre piece of land surrounding the 10th-century temple in October or November.

The ICJ awarded Preah Vihear to Cambodia in 1962, but the case, which begins on April 15 in The Hague, will reinterpret the decision to deal with the surrounding property just south of the Thai border.

Any dust-up between the two countries could be especially problematic at the upcoming 37th World Heritage Committee meeting, because Cambodia is playing host. Meeting in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap from June 16 to June 27, the committee will bring together representatives from 21 countries to look at funding, examine reports on properties, and potentially sign off on World Heritage site nominations, among other things.

Sites must be of “outstanding universal value” and meet certain selection criteria for inclusion on the list, according to the heritage website. Preah Vihear was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008. A UNESCO spokeswoman in Cambodia did not immediately respond to questions about whether the temple was on the agenda or not.

Ek Tha, a spokesman at the Council of Ministers, said Cambodia has been carrying out plans for managing Preah Vihear for years, so talk at this summer’s conference would be expected.

“The cultural and management master plan of Preah Vihear . . . has been well-recognised and praised by UNESCO and by the World Heritage Committee,” he said.

“If they are warning to walk out, that’s their problem, not our problem, it’s nothing to do with us,” he added. “This is not a political organisation, this is purely cultural.”

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