UNESCO appoints special envoy for Preah Vihear temple

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The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today named Koïchiro Matsuura as Special Envoy to address the issue of Preah Vihear, a Hindu temple inscribed on the World Heritage List that has been damaged owing to recent border clashes between Cambodia and Thailand.

Mr. Matsuura, the former Director-General of UNESCO, will visit Bangkok and Phnom Penh to discuss how the site can be safeguarded.

“He will examine with both sides how to lessen tension and promote dialogue around the preservation of the temple, within the Organization’s mandate,” the Paris-based agency said in a news release.

UNESCO had announced earlier this week that it would send a mission to assess the damage caused by the recent armed clashes between the two South-East Asian neighbours to the temple, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in July 2008.

Tensions first escalated between the two countries that same month following the build-up of military forces near the temple, which dates back to the 11th century and is located on the Cambodian side of the border.

“World Heritage sites are the heritage of all humanity and the international community has a special responsibility to safeguard them. This requires a collective effort that must be undertaken in a spirit of consultation and dialogue,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

“Heritage should unite people and serve as an instrument of dialogue and mutual understanding and not of conflict,” she added.

Ms. Bokova and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have called for calm and restraint by both sides amid the renewed clashes.