Thursday, 25 June 2009

Preah Vihear move is about border rights, PM says

By The Nation
Published on June 25, 2009

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday he wanted to keep the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and international involvement away from Preah Vihear temple.

Cabinet's move to maintain its objection to World Heritage listing for the site, which it achieved last year, was just reserving Thailand's right to handle boundary demarcation with Cambodia, he said.

Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Cambodia in 2000 not to make any change in regard to "overlapping" areas claimed by both countries before the completion of demarcation, he said.

"As the temple is listed as World Heritage, there will be more hands involved, which is contrary to the MoU," Abhisit told reporters before leaving for China.

The historic cliff-top temple has been a point of conflict between Thailand and Cambodia for years.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia but Thailand argues that the court ruling did not cover adjacent land. Both countries claimed an area of 4.6 square kilometres near the temple.

Thailand's objection to the World Heritage listing stirred anger from Phnom Penh as the move delays its plan to develop the site.

Cambodia has yet to convene an international coordination committee to develop Preah Vihear, as Thailand has not decided whether to join the panel to run the site with seven other parties.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban will visit Phnom Penh on Saturday to explain its stance to Hun Sen, the Cambodian premier.

Abhisit hoped Suthep would be able to calm Hun Sen down and reduce tension at the site.

Disputes over Preah Vihear led to fighting near the border temple in October last year and in April, which saw several soldiers killed on both sides.

Cambodia had boosted its forces in the conflict area since the latest moves, Second Army Region Commander Wiboonsak Neeparn said. "We have to adjust our troops to get ready but as I talk to my Cambodian counterpart, we don't use force to solve the problem," he said yesterday.

Chulalongkorn University academic Chaiwat Khamchoo said the government's objection to Cambodia's plan would not benefit Thailand but only created conflict with its neighbour.

Somchai Phetprasert, chairman of House committee on military affairs, accused the government of pushing the country nearer to war. Prime Minister Abhisit should talk with Cambodia about a joint nomination for the temple, Somchai said.

"Prime Minister Abhisit might be confused over the boundary. The Unesco won't deal with the boundary issue but will help to protect the site in Cambodia," he said.

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