CAMBODIA has been elected to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for the first time – a move that some say could pave the way for more of the Kingdom’s ancient ruins to attain coveted World Heritage status.
“This is a cause for happiness for all Cambodian people.… It is the honour and pride of Cambodia to have been elected as a member of the World Heritage Committee,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday during a speech at a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen thanked all the member states that supported Cambodia’s bid for the six-year term, promising that the country would make an effort to undertake its role on the World Heritage Committee “without bias”, a thinly veiled reference to the recent dispute with Thailand over the heritage listing of Preah Vihear temple.
“We have never interfered with anyone, but the [Thais] have interfered with us,” he said.
The prime minister added that 30 countries had been competing to fill 12 vacancies on the 21-seat committee, and that Cambodia was the second country to be voted in during the first round, following Switzerland.
Cambodia won its seat on the committee Monday night after a vote by UNESCO’s 186 member states during the organisation’s 17th congress in Paris. This is the first time Cambodia has sat on the committee since it joined UNESCO in 1951.
Chuch Phoeung, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and chairman of the Preah Vihear Authority, said that committee membership would make it easier for Cambodia to get its national treasures recognised as World Heritage sites.
“In the past, listing heritage sites such as the Preah Vihear temple was more difficult because we did not have representation on the committee,” he said.
Chuch Phoeung also said that committee membership would make it easier for Cambodia to draw on the expertise of other countries to improve its methods of heritage site preservation.
Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian, said it was an “honour” for Cambodia to take up membership of the committee, but that the country had benefited little from the international organisations, such as the World Trade Organisation, to which it belongs.
“Too often, we lose out on the potential benefits of membership due to a shortage of human resources and a lack of specific policies,” he said.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, also welcomed UNESCO’s decision and hoped that Cambodia would now be in a better position to bring in more World Heritage listings.
Chuch Phoeung said Cambodia had over a thousand heritage sites across the country, and that the first sites to be brought before UNESCO for recognition would be the Banteay Chhmar temple complex in Banteay Meanchey province and the pre-Angkorian Sambo Prey Kup temples in Kampong Thom.
The Angkor temple complex was listed as a World Heritage site in 1993. Preah Vihear temple, on the border with Thailand, was awarded the status in July 2008, triggering a yearlong military standoff between Cambodia and Thailand, which claims the territory around the temple.