via Khmer NZ
By Panya Tiewsangwan
The World Heritage Committee's decision to delay the Preah Vihear management issue to next year must have hit Cambodia hard, but Phnom Penh's Defence Minister Tea Banh took it on the chin, albeit quite bitterly.
"We know from history what the issue is like," he told The Nation in a phone interview. "What has happened doesn't give any new signal. It's an old issue, nothing new."
While saying that the Unesco setback will not create military tension at the border, Tea Banh, who is also deputy prime minister, couldn't help feeling Thailand could have just stopped being "stubborn" and learned to "let go".
"To us it's deja vu all over again. Thailand has never let go in spite of the World Court verdict and Thais have tried everything" to oppose Cambodian rights over the temple, he said.
Members of the People's Alliance for Democracy, who demonstrated at the Bangkok head office of Unesco yesterday against Cambodia's management plan for the temple, cheered the World Heritage Committee's decision. But observers believe the one-year postponement is unlikely to soften the PAD's sometimes vociferous campaign for Thai territorial claims around the temple.
It was the PAD's strong protests that galvanised the government to resort to tough diplomacy that saw Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva threatening this week to sever ties with the Unesco committee.
The World Heritage Committee, part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, had been scheduled to rule on Thursday on the Cambodian management plan for the 11th-century Hindu temple. But at the meeting in Brasilia, the Thai-Cambodian conflict flared up. As a result, the 21-member committee decided to postpone the decision until next year's meeting in Bahrain, after Thai accusations of procedural errors.
"The Thais know best what they want and I can't speak for them," Tea Banh said. "You don't have to ask me what caused the delay after Thailand threatened to end its Unesco membership.
"Should this conflict be mediated by a third party? I really don't want to comment. Let me just say if one side refuses to accept truth, it will be very difficult to move on."
The stone Hindu temple ruins were listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site two years ago and Phnom Penh was required to submit a management plan to the committee. Thai opponents of the management plan feared it "hid" some sensitive territorial information that would bolster Cambodia's territorial claims in the future.
"Cambodia never thinks about violating Thailand's sovereignty," Tea Banh said. When asked if a joint development of the site would be a solution, he replied: "There are principles for everything. You cannot try to be co-owners of properties you don't have rights over them."