[Thai sore losers] Govt issues temple ultimatum

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thais will quit heritage body if plans are passed

Bangkok Post

Thailand is threatening to resign its membership of the World Heritage Committee if it goes ahead and approves Cambodia's management plan for Preah Vihear temple.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday sent a strong message to the committee, meeting in Brazil, that approval of the plan proposed by Phnom Penh could mean the end of Thai membership of the body.

Thailand's main concern is that the plan could include part or all of a disputed 4.6 square kilometre area buffer zone claimed by the two countries.

Thai PBS television quoted Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti as saying in Brazil that the plan to manage the Hindu Khmer temple and surrounding areas included a square kilometre of the disputed land.

Mr Suwit, who heads the Thai delegation in Brasilia, told the prime minister he believed Cambodia had won the backing of several committee members for its plan.

"If the WHC takes into consideration the matter, we will veto it and would consider withdrawing as a world heritage member," the prime minister said after the cabinet meeting.

But Thailand will cooperate with the WHC if its decision on Cambodia's management plan for the temple and its surrounding areas does not affect the country's sovereignty.

The prime minister's warning came hours before the 21-member committee planned to discuss the issue. The issue was expected to go on the agenda for talks last night.

Cambodia was asked to submit the plan for approval after the Hindu temple was listed as a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 2008.

Mr Abhisit said the WHC could stop helping oversee management of Thailand's world heritage sites if Bangkok withdrew its membership.

Thailand could also lose the chance of asking the committee to inscribe new ones.

But he stressed that Thailand had to send a message to the WHC as Thailand and Cambodia have yet to demarcate the overlapping area.

If the committee endorsed the plan, it would show the panel did not respect Unesco's will in protecting cultural heritage and building peace, he said.

He also warned that approval could lead to simmering conflicts and violence between the two countries.

The People's Alliance for Democracy against Dictatorship protested in front of Unesco's Bangkok office on Tuesday. Two more protests took place yesterday, in Hat Yai district in Songkhla and Muang district in Kanchanaburi.

The Bangkok protest prompted Unesco director-general Irina Bokova to issue a statement from Brazil yesterday calling for dialogue in safeguarding the temple.

Ms Bokova said she had met the Thai and Cambodian representatives to stress the committee's mission, which was to promote heritage "with full respect and without prejudice to the sovereignty of member states or to any territorial claims".

"Protecting and enhancing our natural and cultural heritage, means building the peace, respect and solidarity which lies at the heart of Unesco's mission. It is our common responsibility to make these sites emblems of peace, dialogue and reconciliation," she said.

A senior Thai official working on the issue considered the Thai move as "serious action" which would put Unesco under pressure to drop the Cambodian plan.

"I don't think the government's decision will result in any difficulty for the country," the official said.

Adul Wichiancharoen, former president of the WHC, backed the government's decision to consider withdrawing Thailand's membership if the WHC did not delay consideration of Cambodia's management plan.

He said the move might be necessary because Unesco had apparently acted in favour of Cambodia. This included delays in releasing Cambodia's management plan, which put Thailand at a disadvantage.

Mr Adul said the government would have to justify any decision to quit by showing the international community how Cambodia's management plan would affect Thai sovereignty.

He saw no drawbacks if Thailand withdrew its WHC membership.

"We don't have to stick to the body's principles or rules if they compromise the national interest," he said.

"I don't think there will be any affect on the world heritage sites in Thailand. There is no rule saying world heritage status will be revoked if we quit."

Meanwhile, Thailand has closed the Khao Phra Viharn National Park in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district temporarily for safety reasons.

Theerayuth Wongpongprai, chief of the park, said the 2nd Army Region ordered him not to open the park until the security situation returned to normal.

"Although there is no sign of violence at the time being, we have been told to keep the park closed for security reasons," he said.

The park opened for public visits in April. But it was ordered to close again during the red shirt rallies, which ended in May.


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