Thursday, 18 June 2009

Thailand to seek review of Preah Vihear's heritage status

By: BangkokPost
Published: 17/06/2009

Thailand will ask the World Heritage Committee to review the decision to register Preah Vihear temple, on the border of Si Sa Ket province, as a World Heritage site under the sole supervision of Cambodia, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Wednesday.

Last year, the World Heritage Committee (WHC), which operates under the auspices of Unesco, registered Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site, as proposed by Cambodia, and required Phnom Penh to set up an International Coordinating Committee to preserve the temple.

Mr Abhisit said the cabinet on Tuesday agreed the request should be submitted to this year's 33rd session of the WHC, to be held in Seville, Spain, from June 22-30.

At the meeting, Cambodia is due to report on the state of conservation of the ancient khmer temple.

The prime minister said a delegation of the Thai world heritage committee led by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti will tell the meeting that the registration of Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site had brought about conflict and losses, and this would appear to be against Unesco's objectives in having heritage sites.

The prime minister said a World Heritage site is supposed to be an area where traces of culture and history are preserved, allowing tourists to see and admire them. But the registration of Preah Vihear had caused more conflict between the peoples of Thailand and Cambodia.

Mr Abhisit said Preah Vihear should be registered jointly as a World Heritage site by Thailand and Cambodia, not just by one country.

"I want to see the temple a peaceful area so that the people of the two countries can jointly benefit from this site of high historical importance," said the prime minister.

Panithan Wattanayakorn, the PM's deputy secretary-general and acting government spokesman, said Mr Suwit would attend the WHC meeting as a member of the Thai world heritage committee. He would submit the protest letter in the name of the committee, not the Thai government.

Thailand was not protesting against Cambodia's application that Preah Vihear be listed as a World Heritage site, but against the decision approving the insciption of the temple, which had caused more problems, he said.

Mr Panithan said many cabinet ministers expressed concern over this matter, saying that it is sensitive and could affect Thai-Cambodian relations.

The Foreign Ministry in May warned Unesco about the activities of officials and experts at Preah Vihear temple.

Virachai Plasai, head of the ministry's Treaties and Legal Affairs Department, reaffirmed to the chief of Unesco's information and knowledge management unit, Clive Wing, that UN officials and experts could travel through disputed areas around the temple only with the permission of Thai authorities.

The ministry had reminded Unesco in March that only the main building of the Preah Vihear temple was inscripted as a World Heritage site, where the UN and the World Heritage Committee could work.

The wider promontory, cliff and cave were not included - so Unesco officials could not pass through these areas without Thai permission.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia, but Thailand claims surrounding areas. The disputed area of 4.6 square kilometres has not been demarcated.

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