By JANJIRA PONGRAI, PONGPHON SARNSAMAK
Academics yesterday called on the government to delist the country's five Unesco World Heritage Sites, saying the designation was just a meaningless tourism and travel symbol.
"It's a shame for Thailand if the government continues to use the World Heritage sign in front of the sites after its withdrawal from the World Heritage Convention," said Adul Wichiencharoen, a former member of the National World Heritage Committee.
The World Heritage Committee's process of considering the registration of a World Heritage Site is without academic principle, he said.
"The decision to designate a site as world heritage is based on benefits generated from tourism. We did not get any benefit from the designation of World Heritage Site," he said.
Thailand's five World Heritage Sites are the Historic City of Ayutthaya, the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns, Ban Chiang Archaeological Site, Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries, and Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex.
The World Heritage Committee only allocates budgets for educational training and capacity building.
Some funds are made available to maintain designated sites such as the Historic City of Ayutthaya after damage from flooding, said Nisakorn Kositrat, secretary-general of the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning.
"We were supported with only US$30,000 [Bt936,000] to restore the Historic City of Ayutthaya after it was sub?merged in flood waters," she said.
Thailand has proposed four more cultural and natural sites to the World Heritage Committee - Kaeng Krachan National Park, Phu Phra Bat Historical Park, Prasart Hin Pimai-Prasart Phanomrung, and Prasart Moung Tham - as well as the Andaman Sea.
Sunant Arunnopparat, director-general of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, said Thailand's exit from the World Heritage Convention would not ruin the tourism atmosphere at the two existing designated natural sites.
"Whether there's a sign of world heritage in front of the sites doesn't matter for tourists visiting the natural sites," he said.
The department will hold a meeting this week to discuss the impact from the withdrawal on the status of the two world heritage designated sites and is now waiting for the order from high-level officials, he said.
Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, on Sunday expressed her deep regret via Unesco's website after the declaration of Minister Suwit Khunkitti of Thailand's intention to denounce the World Heritage Convention.
Suwit was in Paris attending the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee at Unesco's headquarters from June 19-29.
Contrary to widely circulated media reports, Bokova said, the World Heritage Committee did not discuss the management plan of the Temple of Preah Vihear, nor did it request any reports to be submitted on its state of conservation.
It needs to be clarified that Unesco's World Heritage Centre never pushed for a discussion of the management plan by the committee, she said.
The decision of the World Heritage Committee on the Preah Vihear Temple World Heritage Site in Cambodia only reaffirms the need to ensure the protection and conservation of the property from any damage, Bokova said.
It further encouraged the two countries to use the con?vention as a tool to support conservation, sustainable development and dialogue.
The World Heritage Committee decision on Preah Vihear was adopted unanimously after Thailand staged a walkout. The request of Thailand to adjourn the debate was not supported by any other member of the committee.
Bokova said she had emphasised that heritage should serve not for conflict but as a tool for dialogue and reconciliation.
She expressed the hope that Thailand would carefully consider its future course of action in respect to the convention and would continue to be an active participant in the international cooperation for the protection of the world's outstanding heritage.