Temple land fight shifts to World Heritage Commission

The opposition is urging the government to make clear its objection to Cambodia's Preah Vihear management plan at the next World Heritage Committee (WHC) meeting.

  • Published: 22/04/2013 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

Ambassador Virachai Plasai (left) and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul led the Thai team home on Sunday from the International Court of Justice presentation. The Thai and foreign team members will get personal congratulations Monday from Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)

Cambodia is expected to table the plan for consideration at the 37th WHC meeting, to be held on June 16-27 in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh might place the Preah Vihear management plan at the top of the WHC agenda and lobby other parties to endorse the plan, threatening Thai territorial sovereignty, the Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said Sunday.

The WHC approved Cambodia's proposal to inscribe Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site in July 2008.

The Democrat Party and several academics have expressed concerns the development plan might include the disputed 4.6 sq km area of land surrounding the temple.

Mr Chavanond lauded the Thai legal team's performance at the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) oral hearing last week on Cambodia's request for a reinterpretation of the ICJ's 1962 verdict.

He praised Thai envoy Virachai Plasai and the four foreign lawyers for their strong defence against Cambodia's claims of ownership of the temple's surrounding area.

However, Mr Chavanond warned Thailand was still at risk of losing sovereignty of this area if the Pheu Thai-led government failed to oppose Cambodia's temple management plan.

Mr Chavanond said he believed that seeking the WHC's endorsement of the management plan was Cambodia's "Plan B" in convincing the ICJ that it owns the area surrounding Preah Vihear.

"Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has to make Thailand's position clear that we object to Cambodia's management plan for the vicinity of Preah Vihear," Mr Chavanond said.

The Thai World Heritage Information Centre, chaired by Natural Resources and Environment Ministry permanent-secretary Chote Trachoo, recently vowed to object to Cambodia's management plan at the June meeting.

Mr Chote also threatened to walk out of the meeting if Phnom Penh insists on discussing the plan.

Democrat Bangkok MP Ong-art Klampaiboon Sunday warned the government against any movement that could put Thailand at a disadvantage in the case.

The government must also maintain peace along the border to prevent Cambodia from exploiting any clashes for its own benefit.

"Although Pheu Thai and the Cambodian governments have good relations, Bangkok must be careful because Phnom Penh might use any means in their attempts to win the case," Mr Ong-art said.

A large crowd of supporters welcomed members of the Thai legal team at Suvarnabhumi early Sunday as they returned from the Netherlands, where the ICJ hearing was held.

They presented flowers and displayed banners to thank the team for its devotion in fighting the case.

"I have done my best," Mr Virachai said upon arriving, adding the Thai team's performance went as planned because there had been no leaks of information to the Cambodian side.

Mr Virachai told reporters the team's next task is to prepare a map of Preah Vihear's surrounding area.

An ICJ judge asked Thailand and Cambodia to define the temple's surrounding area and submit it to the court by Friday.

Mr Virachai said Thailand's version would be based on the boundary drawn up by a July 10, 1962, cabinet resolution.

The legal team will meet Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at Government House today to discuss the case.

Meanwhile, most people have confidence in the Thai legal team, a poll suggests.

Abac Poll surveyed 2,165 Thais aged 18 and over in 17 provinces between April 15 and Saturday.

The poll found 61.3%, of the respondents said they had confidence in the Thai delegation, 33.1% had no idea and 5.6% said they were not confident.

Asked about the degree of their satisfaction with the roles of the diplomatic and political delegates in the Thai team, 65.3% of the respondents said they were satisfied with the diplomats and 42.6% were satisfied with the politicians.

Asked how disappointed they would be if Thailand loses the 4.6 sq km area around Preah Vihear to Cambodia, 80% of the respondents said they would be most disappointed, 13.4% said their disappointment would be moderate, and 6.6% said they would be a little or least disappointed.

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