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International Boundaries Research Unit

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UNESCO defers consideration of Cambodia's Temple documents

(3 August 2010)

UNESCO has deferred a decision on the management plan for the Temple of Preah Vihear submitted by Cambodia until next year's meeting of the World Heritage Committee. The Temple complex is at the centre of a boundary dispute between Cambodia and Thailand. In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Temple was situated within Cambodian territory. However, the boundary around the Temple complex, which is perched on a cliff top and only accessible through Thai territory, has never been defined accurately. The dispute re-ignited in 2008 after the Temple was declared a World Heritage Site. Given its position, Thailand had hoped to submit application for World Heritage status jointly with Cambodia but the application was eventually submitted unilaterally by Cambodia. With tensions high, confusion over the position of the boundary around the site led to troops from both sides being aggressively dispatched at close proximity in 2008 and the stand-off continues.

The World Heritage Committee awarded World Heritage status to the Temple of Preah Vihear under several conditions. Cambodia was asked to submit a number of documents by 1 February 2010 including a map of the Temple complex, definition of a buffer zone and provisions for an overall management plan. Cambodia submitted these documents within the deadline and had expected the Committee to rule on these provisions during its 2010 annual meeting in Brasilia from 25 July to 3 August. Under pressure from Thailand which argued that not enough time was available to review the documents, the Committee decided to defer a decision on Cambodia's reserve consideration of the documents and management plan until the 2011 annual meeting. Meanwhile, there has been little progress in negotiations to define the Cambodia-Thailand boundary around the Temple complex although tensions on the ground have eased.

Sources: 'Cambodia/Thailand: Cambodia unfazed by UNESCO committee's postponed decision on Preah Vihar temple plan' Thai News Service, 3 August 2010; 'Thai-Cambodia deadlock over temple plan, UNESCO defers decision to 2011' BBC Monitoring Newsfile, 30 July 2010; 'Thailand Threatens to Pull Out of UN World Heritage Committee Over Border Dispute' Voice of America, 29 July 2010.

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