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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai UNESCO snub sparks tension

Thai UNESCO snub sparks tension

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A Cambodian soldier sits in front of the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple during a lull in fighting with Thai troops in February.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said troops stationed on Cambodia’s border with Thailand were on high alert yesterday, after Bangkok announced it was withdrawing from talks at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on Saturday.

At a graduation ceremony at Phnom Penh’s Chaktumok Hall yesterday, the premier said he feared clashes could erupt after Thailand reportedly walked  out of  the Paris talks over the weekend.

“They were angry walking out from the summit and they whispered to one ambassador that they will go back to fight. Therefore, I ordered the military to immediately [start] monitoring the situation from midnight [on Sunday],” he claimed, adding that all troops along the border were on high alert.

Thai National Army chief Prayuth Chanocha had also placed his border forces on alert, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday.

“Thai and Cambodian soldiers have been in contact on a regular basis since the last clashes along the border, but there’s not a high degree of trust between them yet,” the Bangkok Post quoted Prayuth as saying.

Also yesterday, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova issued a statement expressing her “deep regret” that Thai minister Suwit Khunkitti had declared Thailand’s intention to denounce the 1972 World Heritage Convention – a treaty designed to advance the protect-ion and preservation of cultural and natural sites – during the talks.

UNESCO said the World Heritage Committee had made a decision on the matter that “further encourages the two countries to use the 1972 Convention as a tool to support conservation, sustainable development and dialogue”.

The statement also denied “widely circulated” media reports that discussion of Cambodia’s proposed management plan for the Preah Vihear temple was discussed during the 10-day summit that began in Paris on June 19.

Suwit Khunkitti had cited the refusal of a Thai proposal to delay the proposed plan as one of the reasons Thailand had withdrawn from the summit, the Bangkok Post reported on Sunday.

The UNESCO statement noted that a request by Thailand to adjourn debate was “not supported by any other member” of the WHC.

Thai Government and military officials could not be reached for comment yesterday. A UNESCO spokesperson declined to comment further.

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