Thailand threatens to quit World Heritage group

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Thailand is threatening to resign its membership of Unesco’s World Heritage Convention.

It says it will resign from the body if a draft agreement on issues regarding the management plan for Preah Vihear temple, prepared by the Unesco World Heritage Centre, is forwarded for consideration to the World Heritage Committee (WHC).

The draft was suggested by centre director Kishore Rao after both Thai and Cambodian versions failed to win each other country’s approval.

Suwit: ‘Authority to leave rests with me’

However, reading through the draft proposed by the centre, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who is leading the Thai delegation at the WHC meeting in Paris, also found that it, like the Phnom Penh version, would put Thailand at risk of losing its territory.

Words in the draft like “restoration” and “repair” of the temple could cause problems in interpretation, he said.

Such wording may be used in the future to refer to repairs from being damaged in attacks by Thai troops.

Thailand wants the centre to remove them and use “protection” and “conservation” instead, according to talks between Mr Suwit’s team and Unesco director-general Irina Bokova.

Mr Rao informed Mr Suwit that if Thailand and Cambodia could not reach a conclusion on any draft, the centre would forward its draft to the WHC meeting for consideration.

Mr Suwit was against this as it would put Thailand at risk of losing territory if the draft is approved by the WHC.

So Mr Suwit said he informed Mr Rao that if he insisted on doing so, Thailand had no choice but to withdraw from its membership of the World Heritage Convention.

He said he had told Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva about the situation, and the premier gave him the authority to make a decision.

Both Bangkok and Phnom Penh earlier submitted their own versions of the draft agreement.

However, the two countries still disagreed on many points though they have been allowed to adjust their drafts four times each in the past two days.

Thailand insists the WHC should delay considering the management plan until border demarcation work is done.

Mr Abhisit said yesterday he told Mr Suwit to carefully monitor the situation.

Authority over whether to withdraw will rest with him, Mr Suwit said. The cabinet has empowered him to decide.

Meanwhile, Thai and Cambodian troops are worried about renewed border tensions after Bangkok’s protest against Phnom Penh’s management plan.

The Thai stance has upset Cambodia which told its soldiers to reinforce bunkers along the overlapping border near Surin’s Phanom Dong Rak district.

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