Conflict at Preah Vihear Threatening as UNESCO Meets

Relations between Cambodia and Thailand will be sorely tested this week, with Bangkok expected to ask UNESCO to review its decision to list the 11th-century temple of Preah Vihear as a world heritage site.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has ordered Thailand’s representative to the World Heritage Committee to object to the 2008 listing of the Angkorian temple when the committee meets for its 33rd session in Seville, Spain.

According to the Thai News Agency, Thailand will protest on the grounds that the listing has brought about conflict and losses between the two countries, running counter to UNESCO’s aim in naming international heritage sites.

Tensions between Cambodia and Thailand appeared to be easing earlier this year, after a meeting between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan resulted in an agreement to jointly demarcate the area. Both countries agreed to pull their remaining troops out of a disputed border area near the 900-year-old temple.

Preah Vihear sits atop a 1,700-foot cliff just inside the Cambodian border, and has been the site of armed clashes in the past. The International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear to Cambodia in 1962, but Thailand has resented the decision — for reasons, analysts believe, that have more to do with control of the military high ground that overlooks Cambodia than with historical or cultural attachments.

Bangkok was enraged a year ago when UNESCO listed the site. A troop build-up and sporadic clashes followed, resulting in deaths on both sides.

“I personally want to see peace in the area and peoples of both countries receive benefit from the historical heritage site,” Abhisit said last week as troops from both countries went on full alert.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen last Thursday expressed deep regret over both Abhist’s comments and a push to have Preah Vihear jointly registered and administered as a world heritage site.

“I think that his words . . . have disturbed the peace of another country,” Hun Sen told reporters, adding the issues had not been raised at a recent meeting of the two leaders. “I regret his comments and his intentions.”