Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Congratulate Cambodia, don't curse it

The Bangkok Post
Wednesday July 09, 2008


Thailand should congratulate, not curse, Cambodia for its success in having the ancient Hindu temple of Preah Vihear inscribed as a new World Heritage landmark.

Thailand should now concentrate on restoring its standing and educate the world that the temple's settings, some of which are in Thai territory, also deserve the same preservation.

To achieve that difficult goal, the country needs to first make sure that there is no more fanning of nationalism by either the Democrat party or the People's Alliance for Democracy for the sake of personal political gain.

But the civic protest group and the opposition, and senators, should spare the Samak administration from punishment, especially Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, for confusing the international community about Thailand's true position on Preah Vihear.

The national drama unfolded with the government supporting Cambodia's call that its new temple map, minus the disputed 4.6km border area, be used for the heritage listing. The government was forced to change its position after the Administrative Court issued an injunction against cabinet approval for the signing of the joint communique.

Thailand also felt Preah Vihear was inextricably linked to the surrounding cultural and natural landscape on Thai territory, and therefore a joint nomination should be made for the listing of the site.

That was the position the present Thai government should have taken and argued for from the very start.

The court's ruling made Mr Noppadon swallow his words and he backtracked on the issue by saying that the joint communique signed on June 18 should not be taken as a guarantee of Thailand's endorsement for Cambodia's latest bid for registration of the temple.

Thailand failed miserably in its efforts to convince Phnom Penh and the technical experts advising the World Heritage Committee in Quebec that the temple should not be listed until the two neighbours settle their border disputes.

If anyone is to be blamed for what has happened it is the Samak administration, for rushing to clinch the deal and support Cambodia's proposal.

Another lesson from the Preah Vihear case is that the government cannot afford not to take the advice of experts into account before agreeing to any future proposals, or we may find ourselves in another hopeless situation.

But this should not prevent the two neighbours from cooperating in exploring ways to enhance their mutual respect, friendship, and in the peaceful management of the ancient heritage site that has served local communities of both countries for centuries.

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