Unesco label half the fight

Unesco label half the fight

Without a doubt, the decision by Unesco's World Heritage Committee to list Si Thep Historical Park as the nation's seventh World Heritage Site brought smiles to many Thai faces.

Not only did the announcement prompt celebrations by elated local residents, but the Culture Ministry is also preparing to launch a number of activities this year to celebrate the occasion.

The Fine Arts Department, which oversees the management of the nation's cultural heritage sites, is convinced the label will transform the quiet, poverty-ridden town in Phetchabun province into a famous tourist attraction, the same way it transformed Sukhothai a few years ago.

While it remains to be seen how the Unesco designation will affect communities around Si Thep, the impact of indiscriminate land development around the nation's World Heritage sites can be clearly gauged. Now, the government needs to turn its attention to protecting sites which have already been recognised by Unesco, especially around Ayutthaya.

Over the years, Unesco has warned the government via the Fine Arts Department about the need to protect existing World Heritage sites in the province.

The construction of the high-speed rail line that will pass through the province has also caused concern among conservationists, who fear its impact on the province's historical structures.

Managing World Heritage sites in Thailand is a complex matter, not only because of their geographically isolated locations but also due to conflicts of interest with indigenous communities which have lived in and around the sites for generations.

In its effort to create natural reserves and national parks, the government regularly resorts to legal wrangling to evict indigenous residents. Some of these parks have now been recognised as World Heritage sites by Unesco at the expense of local residents.

Take the forced eviction of Karen forest dwellers in Phetchaburi as an example when the government moved to create Kaeng Krachan National Park. Local residents living around Si Thep can only hope they won't be subjected to forced evictions.

The 2,800-rai Si Thep Historical Park isn't geographically isolated. But there are still people who have lived for generations in the park, making a living by tending cows and growing simple crops in and around the ruins.

While others jumped for joy upon learning of the park's inclusion as a World Heritage Site, those living in the area are fretting about their future.

The Department of Fine Arts was quick to announce that villagers living in the area will be properly compensated.

However, it needs to be noted that most people living in the area do not have proper title deeds to their land and are likely to be forced to move out.

As the government plans to get Unesco to list more locations as World Heritage sites, it seems many more local communities will face an increased risk of being evicted.

A park's listing as a World Heritage Site should not be a death sentence for those living in or around the area.

Instead of forcing people to move out, the government must find a way to allow traditional communities to stay and include them in the official effort to protect the sites.

With a more inclusive approach, Thailand would be able to push more places to be listed as World Heritage sites, not just isolated forests and historical ruins.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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