Sunday, June 26, 2011

Government to pull out of WHC


The Bangkok Post

The government says it will withdraw from the World Heritage Convention after a disappointing decision by its secretariat last night to advance Cambodia's management plan for the Preah Vihear temple.

The centre decided yesterday to advance Cambodia's plan to a meeting today of the WHC in Paris, despite Thai lobbying to have the plan delayed until border demarcation work with Cambodia is complete.

Earlier, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva expressed hope the centre would delay forwarding the plan as an agenda item.

But in a message on his Twitter account late last night, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who is leading the Thai delegation at the meeting, said the centre had ignored Thailand's pleas.

Withdrawal from the body was now inevitable.

"The World Heritage Centre decided to put the matter on the agenda. I have no choice, we have to withdraw.

"The decision is to prevent the other side from using this issue to claim our territory," he said.

Earlier, the government told the body it would withdraw from the WHC if the plan was not put on hold.

In an earlier Twitter message, Mr Suwit said: "I've issued an ultimatum _ if they reject our proposal, we have to be apart.

"It's useless to be in a society without rules like this. I did my best to protect the country's interests."

Before the decision was announced, former Thai ambassador Asda Jayanama, a key member of the Thai delegation and the chairman of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission, abruptly travelled back to Thailand, despite the negotiations entering a crucial stage.

The WHC proposed its own draft agreement after Thailand and Cambodia disagreed on each other's submitted drafts, despite each having adjusted their submission four times over two days.

The WHC's draft is in line with Thailand's draft in that it proposes to delay a decision on Cambodia's Preah Vihear management plan, but it contains sensitive words like "restoration" and "repair" of the temple, which Thailand worries could be used by Cambodia to apportion blame for damage to Preah Vihear.

Thailand also says restorations or repairs could threaten Thai sovereignty as any such works may require territory in the disputed border area which Thailand claims.

Mr Suwit and Fine Arts Department representatives disapproved of the wording, while the Foreign Ministry was happy with it.

Mr Abhisit said the word "adjustment" would more appropriately describe any temple works, as this would carry no connotations and neither country would be placed at a disadvantage.

He said that while Thailand stood by its ultimatum to leave the WHC if a postponement of the management plan was not agreed, the country would respect the committee's resolution either way.

Tensions between Thailand and Cambodia should not escalate, whatever the decision. Reports have emerged, however, that amid the rise in tensions, Cambodia has told its troops to reinforce bunkers in the overlapping border area.

Thailand's threat to withdraw from the WHC is based on fears that agreeing to deliberate Cambodia's Preah Vihear management plan would put Thailand at risk of losing territory. The Thai delegation says any consideration of the plan should be put on hold until demarcation of the disputed border is finalised.

Thailand believed if the issue was forwarded to the WHC at this time, the country would cede advantage to Cambodia, which would likely be backed in the dispute by a greater number of the 19 other member nations. Member nations which were expected to support Thailand are mainly from Africa.

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