Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Temple tension mounts

Temple tension mounts

Temple tension mounts

CAMBODIAN and Thai officials held abortive talks on the sidelines of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Brazil yesterday in a last-ditch attempt to resolve a dispute over Cambodia’s management plan for Preah Vihear temple.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that during the 45-minute meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and Thai Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti reiterated their governments’ stances on the temple listing.

He said the Thai official demanded joint management of Preah Vihear, and that Sok An repeated Cambodia’s long-standing opposition to such an arrangement.

“There was no significant result from the meeting. The meeting focused on the issue of sovereignty,” Phay Siphan said, but Cambodia “welcomed” UNESCO’s attempt to broker a resolution to the conflict.

The 21-member WHC, which is meeting until Tuesday, was to note the submission of Cambodia’s management plan for Preah Vihear late yesterday, and the lead-up to the session has prompted a fresh flare-up in the long-standing temple dispute.

Thailand has opposed Preah Vihear’s listing as a World Heritage site since before its July 2008 inscription, claiming sovereignty over a 4.6-square-kilometre area adjacent to the temple.

On Wednesday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva threatened that if the WHC approved the Cambodian plan, Bangkok would consider withdrawing from UNESCO.

The Associated Press also quoted Abhisit as saying that the committee should act as a “purveyor of peace and culture, not of tension and conflicts”, and that the Thai army was ready to defend the country’s sovereignty.

Cambodian officials, however, have dismissed the Thai claims, pointing to a 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice that handed the temple – and surrounding lands – to Cambodia.

Phay Siphan said the Thai threats of noncooperation with UNESCO were an “insult” to the world body.

“Thailand will not gain if they walk out of the WHC because Thailand has many tourism sites [listed as] World Heritage sites,” he said. “The obligation of Cambodia is to implement the decision from the WHC, and we have done that since 2008.” He described the management of Preah Vihear as an “absolutely technical matter”.

UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams said yesterday that the dispute between Cambodia and Thailand was “a strictly bilateral” issue, and that the WHC had no mandate to address it.

She also said that Thai talk of the WHC “approving” the Cambodian management plan was misguided.

“The World Heritage Committee does not adopt or approve any plans. All they can do is note that the management plan has been submitted,” she said. Williams added that all member states had the right to withdraw from UNESCO, but that Thailand’s potential withdrawal would not affect the status of any of its World Heritage sites.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THE BANGKOK POST

MOST VIEWED

  • Angkor Wat named as the top landmark for the second year

    Travel website TripAdvisor has named Cambodia’s ancient wonder Angkor Wat as the top landmark in the world for the second year running in their Travelers’ Choice Award 2018, an achievement Cambodian tourism operators expect will attract more tourists to the Kingdom. The website uses traveller

  • New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

    After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty

  • Hun Sen detractors ‘will die’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said those who curse or insult him would eventually die without a plot of land to bury their bodies after being killed by lightning, suffering the same fate as those who recently died in Thmar Baing district in Koh

  • Ministry’s plan for net sparks fears

    The government has ordered all domestic and international internet traffic in the Kingdom to pass through a Data Management Centre (DMC) that has been newly created by the state-owned Telecom Cambodia, in a move some have claimed is an attempt to censor government critics. Spokesman