One of the key questions still left hanging after the Preah Vihear temple became a World Heritage site has to do with whether Thailand has been “duped”, or whether the whole issue is highly charged and highly politicised nationalism gone awry.
Should we be genuinely concerned, or write it off as a political game and forget about it?
In a long, detailed article on the temple’s history and the controversy surrounding it, to be published in The Nation starting on Monday, MR Pridiyathorn Devakula touches upon this question. He says a main point to look at is the acceptance statement of the World Heritage Committee after it decided to list the temple.
A main cause for concern, he says, is resolution number 14 that deals with how to mobilise international efforts to preserve the temple’s universal values.
This particular resolution “requests the State Party of Cambodia, in collaboration with Unesco, to convene an international coordinating committee for the safeguarding and development of the property no later than February 2009, inviting the participation of the Government of Thailand and not more than seven other appropriate international partners, to examine general policy matters relating to the safeguarding of the outstanding universal value of the property in conformity with international conservation standards”.
“The wording looks so harmless,” says Pridiyathorn.
But “the safeguarding of the outstanding universal value of the property in conformity with international conservation standards” may contain far-reaching obligations that could cover the management of surrounding zones affected for decades by both countries’ overlapping claims, or even undisputed areas on the Thai side, he says.
This, combined with the “unprecedented” requirement Cambodia enlist seven other appropriate international partners, may bode ill for Thailand, he cautions. Boldly put, it can be a case of eight against one when it comes to key matters where Thai and Cambodian interests clash.
Speculation about a “conspiracy” will live on, thanks to Unesco’s connection with the French and France’s role in the past Thai-Cambodian dispute over the temple. But it must be noted the World Heritage Committee is an intergovernmental panel for which Unesco serves only as a neutral, non-voting secretariat. Unesco Bangkok director Sheldon Shaeffer’s insistence that the World Heritage Committee is by no means a Unesco committee underlines the extreme sensitivity of the whole issue.
Follow Pridiyathorn’s take on the Preah Vihear temple controversy, on Monday.