Deadlock on Preah Vihear temple status is over

Thailand and Cambodia have broken a deadlock in their dispute over Preah Vihear after Phnom Penh agreed to only nominate the famous Hindu-style temple, and not territory around it, to Unesco as a world heritage candidate. The decision, reached during a Unesco-brokered meeting in Paris on Thursday, puts an end to a dispute involving the 4.6-square-kilometre border area near the temple over which sovereignty has not been settled.

Cambodia’s previous proposal submitted to Unesco included disputed land between Si Sa Ket’s Kantharalak district and Preah Vihear province as areas to be listed as a World Heritage Site.

Thailand protested because it was worried that if Unesco approved the proposal, the entire area on which sovereignty was not yet settled would be implicitly recognised as Cambodian soil.

Unesco – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation rejected the Cambodian proposal and called for the two countries to settle the issue first before it would consider whether the temple should be given world heritage status.

Cambodia agreed to the changes in exchange for Thailand’s backing of the new proposal, said Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, who led the Thai delegation in talks with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and his team.

Unesco assistant director-general for culture Francoise Riviere represented the UN agency.

Mr Noppadon called the outcome of the Paris meeting a ”success and an important step forward” after the talks were held in an amiable atmosphere.

Asked why the Cambodian government had changed its stance, he said both governments had a cordial working relationship.

The next step is for Cambodia to draw up a new map, proposing only Preah Vihear be named a World Heritage Site, and send it to Thailand and Unesco by June 6, as promised by Mr Sok An, he said.

A Foreign Ministry official said the new map was an important step, ensuring Thailand that Cambodia will not include an area awaiting clear demarcation.

If the ministry agrees to the new map, it will forward it to the National Security Council and then to cabinet for approval. Cambodia will then send it to Unesco to apply for heritage listing. The UN agency will make a decision in late June.

Mr Noppadon promised Thailand would not delay seeking cabinet approval if the ministry agrees to the new map.

He denied rumours of a disagreement between the ministry and the armed forces over Preah Vihear, adding that Niphat Thonglek, director-general of the Border Affairs Department under the Supreme Command, did not join his Paris delegation because he had been in Russia with the National Defence College of Thailand.

Lt-Gen Niphat previously intended to go to Paris as part of the Thai team.

A senior armed forces spokesman could not be reached for comment yesterday about the Preah Vihear compromise.

But department deputy director-general Maj-Gen Supot Thammarongrak said on Friday that the armed forces would be satisfied if Phnom Penh included only Preah Vihear in the proposal to Unesco.

Adul Wichiencharoen, chairman of the National Committee on the Convention for the Protection of World Culture and Natural Heritage, was not impressed with the outcome of the Paris meeting.

Mr Adul said it was ”bad news” for Thailand because the country would gain no benefit from seeing Preah Vihear temple become a World Heritage Site.

The border near Preah Vihear which has not been demarcated will be settled by the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission, the Foreign Ministry said.