Bangkok and Phnom Penh again at loggerheads over Preah Vihear
by Weena Kowitwanij
Cambodia plans to use the 34th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to present its management plan for the Preah Vihear Temple, an area Thailand considers its own. Yesterday, a thousand Thais protested against the UNESCO in front of its offices in Bangkok. Thailand’s prime minister complains that the “world-heritage inscription often turns tourist zones into areas of conflict”.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thailand and Cambodia continue to be at loggerheads over the Preah Vihear Temple. About a thousand protesters gathered outside UNESCO offices in Bangkok to oppose the UN agency’s decision to view the ancient temple as a Cambodian World Heritage Site. During the 34th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee currently underway, Cambodia is set to submit its management plan for temple compound.

The dispute between Thailand and Cambodia goes back to 1962 when the International Court of Justice ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but failed to make a decision on the land adjacent the complex, giving rise to constant spats between the two nations.  Although perched on a hill top in Cambodian territory, the temple is easily accessible only from the Thai side.

After years of negotiations, the dispute flared up again in 2008, when UNESCO decided to add the temple to its list of world Heritage sites, which would have required Thailand to make it accessible from its side of the border.

Since then, Thai and Cambodian troops have clashed. In the latest incident in April 2009, four Thai soldiers died.

Major General Chamlong Srimuang, leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who led the recent protest in front of UNESCO’s Bangkok headquarters, said that the border was drawn by French colonial experts, but that Thailand never accepted it. He also slammed the Thai government for not putting sufficient pressures on UNESCO to solve the issue. In his view, the government should boycott the session.

“Even though Thai representatives will attend the conference,” he said, “there is nothing on their agenda to indicate that Thailand plans to protest in the matter. If UNESCO has accepted the Temple of Phra Viharn (alternative spelling) case, it will be to the disadvantage of Thailand,” he added.

Yesterday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that the Thai delegation at the World Heritage Committee session would defend Thailand’s rights and interests.

"We think the World Heritage Committee should not consider this [Cambodia’s] plan until Thailand and Cambodia have agreed upon the demarcation line," Abhisit said.

"The United Nations and its related agencies were established to promote peace. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee needs to review why its world-heritage inscription often turns tourist zones into areas of conflict," he added.