Thailand withdraws from World Heritage Convention over Preah Vihear dispute
(29 June 2011)
On 26 June 2011, Thailand announced that it had withdrawn from the World Heritage Convention, convened under UNESCO. The Thai prime minister stated the reasoning for leaving the UN heritage body was due to its recent decision to review Cambodia’s management plan for the Preah Vihear temple, stating that, ``It clearly will have an effect on the dispute that is ongoing and it will only contribute to further tension and greater risk of violence.'' It is reported that UNESCO will decide on 29 July if it will implement Cambodia’s management plan, which is concerned with conservation and infrastructure efforts, including repairs to stairs on the eastern side of the temple that were supposedly damaged in recent skirmishes. Thailand has argued that the management plan should not be considered until the border is clearly demarcated between the two nations. The Thai prime minister reiterated that Thailand must, "protect our territory and prevent any move in the international arena that will affect our sovereignty."
It has also been reported that additional troops have been deployed to the contested border regions by both Cambodia and Thailand in response to the recent Thai decision to withdraw from the heritage convention. Bilateral talks between the two countries have recently come to a halt, in part due to Thailand’s disapproval of the current International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings, initiated by Cambodia through its request to have the 1962 ICJ ruling on Preah Vihear reviewed. Thailand argues that the court has no jurisdiction in the dispute, as the 1962 ruling considered only the temple, and not the surrounding disputed territory. The ICJ hearing has proceeded however, with a ruling pending regarding Cambodia’s request for Thai troops to halt military activity in the region.
In recent fighting between the two nations during April and May, approximately 18 people have died in the disputed border regions. Thailand has requested that Cambodia return to bilateral talks rather than involve international bodies, including the ICJ and ASEAN. Cambodia however has remained adamant that third party negotiations are essential to ending the conflict. With an upcoming general election in Thailand on 3 July, the Thai government is unwilling to show any concession regarding territorial sovereignty, due largely to pressures from nationalist groups in that country.
Sources: ‘Thailand withdraws from heritage body’, The Statesman, 28 June 2011; ‘Politics: Temple tensions’, Economist Intelligence Unit, 27 June 2011; ‘Thai prime minister defends quitting UN heritage site body over temple dispute with Cambodia’, The Canadian Press, 26 June 2011; ‘Preah Vihear plan set for UNESCO review’, Vong Sokheng, Phnomn Penh Post, 24 June 2011