Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Thailand withdraws from World Heritage Convention over border dispute

Cambodian troops at Preah Vihear are on high alert

Thailand announced on Saturday 25th June that it was withdrawing from the World Heritage Convention with immediate effect, after the World Heritage Committee (WHC) refused to postpone discussion of Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple management plan.

Thailand's Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who led the Thai delegation at the WHC meeting in Paris said Thailand would leave the Convention and withdraw from the 21-member WHC because it continues to ignore Thailand's concerns that Cambodia's plans could negatively affect Thailand's sovereignty and territory.

Thailand and Cambodia have long disputed the border in the territory of the eleventh century Hindu Preah Vihear temple, which was awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in a 1962 ruling.

The ruling did not, however, rule on the territory around the temple, and in particular, a 4.6 square kilometer area has become particularly disputed.

Cambodia and Thailand have had a number of border clashes in the region of the temple in the last year, and Suwit had asked the WHC to defer discussion of Cambodia's plan until border demarcation was completed.

Thailand opposed the terminology of Cambodia's proposal, which called for 'urgent repair and restoration', preferring instead 'protection and conservation'.

UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova has sent a letter expressing her regret over Thailand's decision to withdraw from the World Heritage Convention.

“The World Heritage Committee did not discuss the management plan of the Preah Vihear temple nor did it request for any reports to be submitted on its state of conservation. Moreover, it needs to be clarified that UNESCO's World Heritage Centre never pushed for a discussion of the Management Plan by the Committee,” Bokova said in the letter.

Acting government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn said that while Thailand has no objection to the work of UNESCO in preserving and protecting the world's cultural and natural properties, it should not impact on border disputes.

He also rejected Cambodia's claim that troop reinforcements had been sent to the border and said that Thailand was ready to cooperate with its neighbour.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday 27th June that troops stationed on Cambodia's border with Thailand had been put on high alert.

“They [the Thai WHC delegates] were angry walking out from the summit and they whispered to one ambassador that they will go back to fight. Therefore, I ordered the military to immediately [start] monitoring the situation from midnight [on Sunday],” he claimed, adding that all troops along the border were on high alert.

Thai National Army chief Prayuth Chanocha had also put his border forces on alert. “Thai and Cambodian soldiers have been in contact on a regular basis since the last clashes along the border, but there's not a high degree of trust between them yet,” the Bangkok Post quoted Prayuth as saying.

Thailand is set to go to the polls on Saturday, 3rd July, and Cambodia's Hun said Thailand might launch an attack across the border to create an excuse to cancel the election.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit, who is campaigning for re-election said the border conflict with Cambodia was not a factor that could derail the election.

Sources: Bangkok Post, MCOT, Phnom Penh Post, Thailand Business News

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.
Suwit's decision has not been universally welcomed in Thailand. He reported to the Cabinet his decision to walk out, and while caretaker prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva supported his decision, the foreign ministry did not, according to Thailand Business News.

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