Saturday, 12 February 2011

The key is cooperation

via CAAI

Published: 12/02/2011 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

What do the following 9 pairs of countries have in common: Argentina & Brazil; Austria & Hungary; Canada & USA; Costa Rica & Panama; France & Spain; Guinea & Ivory Coast; Hungary & Slovakia; Lithuania & Russia; Zambia & Zimbabwe?

Answer: all are co-hosts of World Heritage sites. In other words, all those pairings have cooperated in applying for and maintaining officially recognised World Heritage sites.

Thailand and Cambodia could be the first Asian countries on that list, if they could find a way to cooperate on the Preah Vihear Temple complex. Twenty people could do the job of administrating and upkeep of the jointly maintained parcel of land.

Chiang Rai


Of a political stripe
I read Suranand Vejjajiva's comment (BP, Feb 11) with tears brimming _ tears of pity, both for my country and for the man himself.

I heard that the people in England before World War Two were so boisterous you'd think they were on the brink of killing each other. Political gatherings and speeches attacking the government happened on a daily basis. But when World War II broke out, all opponents suddenly became friends and united as one until the country was victorious.

After the war, however, the English came back to the business of being democratically boisterous again. That is democracy.

Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia has just declared war with Thailand: a number of our people and soldiers have been killed. Hun Sen has used lightning-fast diplomacy in trying to embarrass Thailand in front of the world community.

Mr Suranand's comment, despite having been beautifully and descriptively written, was narrow-mindedly political and improper. He has shown no respect for the dead, the injured and the desperately home-forsaken of his own country. He should have learned when to act as a politician and when to act as a Thai citizen.

I dare declare that there are at least two countries in this world that have been ganging up on Thailand (Siam) since 1907 over Preah Vihear. They are still doing it now. No matter what the final outcome of this controversy is, this belief of mine will never change. Look up the history of this region a hundred years past and you will understand how and why. Thailand cannot do anything much because it is still striving to be a good member of the world community _ not because it is fearful or selfish or has done anything wrong in any way. We just want peace and the joy of being called ''the Land of Smiles''. Besides, Buddha has taught us to forgive those who have been bad to us.

Chiang Mai


Access from Cambodia
I have lost count of the number of letters I have read in Postbag over the past few years, claiming it is not possible or very hard to access Preah Vihear Temple from the Cambodian side. This is utter rubbish and I can only assume that none of these people have ever visited Cambodia, let alone travelled to the temple from Cambodia.

If you want to visit the temple from Bangkok you are talking about a 7- or 8-hour journey. About three years ago, Cambodia built a beautiful road from Siem Reap to the temple and since then it has been possible to get there in comfort in around 3 hours. Granted, getting up the hill is not so simple and until recently you were forced to pay a few dollars for a military truck to take you up there if you weren't fit enough to make the climb.

As for Khun Songdej's claim (Postbag, Feb 11) that the surrounding disputed area is vulnerable to military conflict, hello! This is because Thailand decided to escalate the problem, not the Khmers, who seemed happy to finally start benefiting from the tourist dollars the temple would bring.

I can only assume the escalation was because Thai authorities knew fully well that any right-minded tourist would go for the 3-hour Cambodian journey over the 8-hour Thai option.

Blaming Unesco seems to be a typically Thai response: blaming someone else for your own problems.



The other side's ahead
The Thai-Cambodian border conflict has turned out to be as fascinating as the Chinese epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sam Kok in Thai).

When Cambodia declared that the bloody conflict has become a war between the two countries, it promptly referred the matter to the UN Security Council and requested the deployment of a UN peace-keeping force.

Kasit Piromya, the Thai foreign minister, has suddenly realised that the border dispute is no longer a mumbo-jumbo allegation from the PAD which he has just branded as childish, nor is it a see-saw game as his army colleagues wish to portray _ restraint and retaliate in the same proportional force as the enemy has imposed on us. So Kasit jolted the audience by alleging that France, Russia and India were backing up Hun Sen, whom he now referred to as a ''bully boy''.

No matter how you look at it, the Cambodian side is one step ahead of the Thais.

In The Three Kingdoms, we are told that during the final years of the Su nation when there were no capable generals left, a middle-ranking army officer named Liu Hwa was allowed to be the front man in charging the enemy. Do we even have a Liu Hwa at this very crucial moment?



Let Asean mediate
Under the current situation between Thailand and Cambodia, I can see the advantage of having Asean _ in this case Indonesia as the chair _ to be a mediator. It is time for PM Abhisit and PM Hun Sen to step forward with the Indonesian president and explain to the citizens of Thailand, Cambodia and other Asean members, what they want and whether they represent the true need of their people.

This may be against Thailand's stand on policy regarding this issue, but I can see the benefits. Unlike other international forums, Thailand still has an advantage in this forum as one of Asean's founders and among the few central pillar countries of Asean politically, militarily and economically.

Considering the habitual nature of Asean's non-interference policy, it is still to Thailand's advantage to be able to lobby Asean members to eventually bring the issue back to the bilateral level while showing the world its willingness to collaborate with multilateralism vis-a-vis the international community. Having ministerial-level and commander-level talks may be proper protocol, but these may not lead to a satisfactory result, as we have seen these past few years. We must realise that the final say from the Cambodian side comes not from its generals or Vice-PM, but only its PM.

Equally important, it is necessary to understand the nature of Cambodian politics, politicians and people (as well as Thailand's); we have to bear in mind that we may never be successful in the demarcation process or final discussions even at the head-of-government level.

Thus it is recommended that Thailand propose some form of package deal to Cambodia and convince Hun Sen that we could jointly nominate the temple of Preah Vihear and its surroundings and register them with the World Heritage Committee for the benefit of both nations.



Sad state of our forests
Re: ''Dept expects forest to gain Heritage title'' (BP, Feb 11). Some facts should be known about the Kaeng Krachan forest complex. Deputy chief of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, says the Kaeng Krachan complex is more fertile than Thung Yai-Huai Kha Khaeng and Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai complexes.

This is simply not true. There is hardly any wildlife left in both the Mae Nam Phachi Wildlife Sanctuary and Chalerm Phrakiat Thai Prachan National Park after years and years of poaching and degradation by encroachment. A few deer and pigs plus a degraded forest certainly do not constitute World Heritage status.

Ten years ago, Kaeng Krachan had many tigers and loads of wildlife along the Phetchaburi River that flows through the park, but recent reports by rangers are disturbing. Very few tracks have been found of the tiger and it is quite possible there are only a couple left here.

There is a large village of ethnic people living in the northern section of the park and access to the interior is easy for them. After many years of surveys by NGOs and park rangers, there is only one crocodile living in the Phetchaburi River.

There are some elephants and gaur but the banteng have disappeared. Even though this is the largest national park in Thailand, it is probably too late to save this once remarkable forest. Vines have now consumed much of the lower forest and trees are dying.

As for Kui Buri National Park further south, it does have some elephants, gaur and tigers, but these isolated populations are genetically in trouble. Wildlife is still in serious jeopardy as poachers continue to intrude into this forest after these animals, as shown by the recent killing of a tusker elephant in the park. The lower section has been overcome by encroachment and although the local people have been moved out, the forest has been degraded to the point of no return.

Has the World Heritage status helped the other two sites in Thailand? Maybe, but these are also under serious threat from continued intrusion and poaching, and it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel for these beautiful places.

With the present situation and outdated laws and regulations, the department is struggling to protect and save Thailand's natural heritage. The system needs a serious revamp, otherwise Thailand's wild animals and magnificent forests will soon be a thing of the past.



50-rai plan won't work
Concerning the proposal of the National Reform Committee to restrict property ownership to 50 rai per family (BP, Feb 10), the government needs to think carefully about the economic implications of such a policy.

The proposal clearly has populist appeal: it looks to be ''fair'' and to strike a blow against ''capitalist'' land owners. So far so good. But unfortunately it is also a recipe for the continued impoverishment of those who choose to stay and work on the land.

Small-lot land ownership is a poverty trap: a rural family cannot grow sufficient food or other crops to ever escape a subsistence existence, and the land title allows them to further impoverish themselves by taking out loans they have no prospect of ever being able to pay back.

The choice the government must make is between a countryside of impoverished small landowners doomed to continue falling further behind town and city dwellers in income, welfare standards and security; or allowing the rural sector to modernise, to expand and to improve the returns to those who work on the land.

There is a good example of the latter _ just look at the agricultural reforms in Brazil over the past 15 years. Agricultural production there increased almost four-fold in just 10 years between 1996 and 2006. Farm incomes have increased significantly, allowing more people to stay and work on the land, all thanks to the input of technology, private capital and modern farming techniques which are not possible in a small-holder rural economy.

If the growing income gap in Thailand is to be narrowed, the agricultural sector must be given the same opportunities as the industrial and service sectors to develop and modernise _ not hurt them. The question then is which is preferable: impoverished landowners with a land title but little else, or an agricultural sector which provides improved incomes, lifestyles and opportunities?

Khon Kaen


Subsidising monsters
Can anyone explain the sense behind keeping fuel costs down for those thoughtless members of the Thai population who spend 1 million baht-plus on a monstrous diesel-guzzling SUV that takes up 10 square metres of space?

Millions of ordinary citizens, meanwhile, are doing their best for the community and the earth by riding economical motorbikes, for which they pay nearly 40 baht a litre if they run on standard 91 petrol and, as a result, have to inhale the noxious gases produced by the SUV.

Chiang Mai


Don Mueang is best
What a comparatively pleasant experience it was flying into Don Mueang last week. The air-bridge connected the plane directly to the terminal, instead of de-planing by steps to a bus that takes passengers on a guided tour of Cobra Swamp. The luggage arrived on the carousel in approximately 10 minutes, instead of half an hour or so, and a queue of meter-taxis was parked right outside the terminal. Why can't all airports be like this?


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