Monday, June 27, 2011

Preah Vihear Temple to remain time bomb


Thailand will withdraw from Heritage Convention, but experts query move

Thailand's defiant decision to pull out of the World Heritage Convention late on Saturday in protest over Cambodia's management plan for Preah Vihear Temple could be another ticking bomb for the new government.

"The next step to withdraw from the World Heritage Committee will be the responsibility of the next government," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told a press conference at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

He had called Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to meet for 10 minutes at the airport's VIP room before the press conference.

"From now Unesco can consult with Thailand over the next process and Thailand will insist that any activity to recover the disputed areas must be approved by Thailand. We do always ask Cambodia to withdraw troops from the Preah Vihear Temple as it would violate the convention and the intention of the committee," he said.

Noppadon Patama, a legal adviser to ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra and former foreign minister, derided the decision to withdraw from the World Heritage Convention, saying it would cause trouble for the country.

"There is another way to protect our sovereign rights that is better than resignation from the convention," he said in a comment called "What has Suwit done in Paris?" on his Facebook page.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, head of the Thai delegation negotiating with the World Heritage Committee in Paris, announced at 11.55pm on Saturday that his delegation had informed the World Heritage Committee that Thailand had withdrawn its membership to the convention. He said the Thai delegation had to make the move after the committee ignored Thailand's concern that consideration of the management plan would complicate the Thai-Cambodian border dispute.

"So, I think that we should not take a risk. If we take a risk, the vote of the committee may affect us and affect our sovereignty. I talked to the delegation and we agreed to withdraw as a member of the World Heritage Convention," Suwit said.

However, academics have called into doubt the legality of the caretaker government's decision, saying the Constitution does not allow a caretaker government to make any legally binding decision until the next government is appointed.

"It is still a question whether the caretaker government has the authority to make any legally binding decision after the House dissolution," said Panas Tassaneeyanont, a legal expert and former senator.

"The withdrawal from the World Heritage Convention will not take effect as the caretaker government does not have the authority to legally bind the next government," he said. "The new government will later cancel the previous government's decision."

According to Article 35 of the World Heritage Convention, such a move must be notified by a signatory in writing, sent to the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

The withdrawal would take effect 12 months after receipt of such a notice. It would not affect the financial obligations of the state until the date on which the withdrawal takes effect.

Abhisit insisted that Suwit's decision had followed the Cabinet resolution.

Akkharaphong Khamkhun, a lecturer at Thammasat University's Pridi Banomyong International College, said Suwit's announcement was hollow because it was done by the caretaker government.

Adul Wichiencharoen, a former member of the National World Heritage Committee, said he supported Suwit's response, as Thailand was in danger of losing territory if the committee accepted the Cambodian plan.

Panthep Pourpongpan, spokesman for the People's Alliance for Democracy, which has been camping out at Government House to protest against the listing of Preah Vihear Temple, said the announcement was a victory for the country.

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