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War of words over heritage meeting

CAMBODIAN officials have declared victory in a standoff with Thailand after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s World Heritage Committee noted the submission of the government’s conservation management plan for Preah Vihear temple and scheduled it for consideration next year.

On Thursday, the Cambodian and Thai delegations to the WHC hashed out a compromise relating to the plan, which has ignited nationalist protests in Bangkok.

According to the compromise draft decision – signed by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, Thai Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti and WHC President Joao Luiz Silva Ferreira – the committee noted the progress report submitted by Cambodia and postponed consideration of the documents until its next session in Bahrain in 2011.

It also welcomed “the steps taken by the State Party towards the establishment of an international coordination committee for the sustainable conservation of the Temple of Preah Vihear”.

Other documents released during Thursday’s meeting, copies of which have been obtained by the Post, state that Cambodia submitted its management plan in February, along with a report containing information about the current conservation efforts being carried out at the site.

On Friday, Sok An declared the outcome a “big victory” for Cambodia. “What Thailand did not accept before, now they did,” he said in a statement issued by the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit on Friday.

He said that the body not only accepted the proposal, “but they also praised us for good planning”.

The compromise followed Thai threats to withdraw from UNESCO if the WHC signed off on Cambodia’s management plan.

Thailand has opposed the listing of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site since it was approved by the WHC in July 2008, and claims sovereignty over a 4.6-square kilometre area adjacent to the temple.

On Saturday, Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya said the outcome of the meeting did not benefit one country over the other.

“Neither country wins on the issue. What [Sok An] said Cambodia had won was [not correct],” Thai news agency TNA quoted him as saying.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday morning that Bangkok would only accept the management plan if the temple was jointly administered by both countries, and that Cambodia’s proposed plan infringed on the disputed area.

Sue Williams, a UNESCO spokeswoman, said Thursday that the WHC lacked the mandate to “approve” anything and could only note the acceptance of Cambodia’s management plan.

Tith Sothea, spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit, said the WHC was only empowered to monitor the country’s adherence to the WHC’s guidelines.

“Cambodia still has the right for the development and conservation of the temple as normal,” he said.

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