Defusing Tensions by Going to the Agreements Achieved – Wednesday, 16.2.2011

The Mirror, Vol. 15, No. 704

Note:

First of all: I am sorry for the delay; something I wanted to send on Monday, but had to delay it and therefore also the almost annual reflections about Valentine’s Day are delayed. But I have a new hard disk in my computer, and to get everything going again took much more time than I had expected.

Norbert Klein

As I continued to receive further comments about the reporting and commenting about the conflicts at the border, both positive and negative – however hardly with specific, detailed responses pointing out where I was supposedly violating the expected balance.

What I am committed to do, is to make all possible efforts to provide clear and reliable information. And, as I have said repeatedly, I regret that clear information about some simple, basic facts is not easily available in the country. The result is that rational argument is often easily derailed and turned into emotional excitement.

That this danger is also being realized at the Press and Quick Reaction Unit (PRU) of the Office of the Council of Ministers of the Royal Government became obvious on Monday, when it sent out a STATEMENT – under the letterhead of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the national and international press – and withdrew it again two hours later. My mailbox records these two events at the following times:

Sent: Mon, February 14, 2011 11:41:10
Subject: Statement on Feb 14, 2011 in English

Sent: Mon, February 14, 2011 13:54:46
Subject: Apology, please ignore this statement we sent. Re: Statement on Feb 14, 2011 in English

This official STATEMENT was withdrawn – but no explanation was given.

Nobody knows how much confusion may have already been created during these two hours, while the large number of recipients in different countries may have published already some of the content. Though no explanation was given, I can imagine that damage to the reputation of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Council of Ministers, and by implication, to the Kingdom of Cambodia, was minimized by withdrawing this STATEMENT. Some pronouncements sent from the same address in the past, were – at least – surprising: calling the neighboring country of Thailand to be like a mad dog trying to catch a piece of meat, etc. etc. But a few of the points in the – now withdrawn – STATEMENT still merit attention, because similar opinions have been expressed at other occasions and have contributed to public misunderstandings, bad feelings, and public outrage.

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“The Press and Quick Reaction Unit (PRU) of the Office of the Council of Ministers (OCM) of the Royal Government of Cambodia totally rejects the call, as reported in the Bangkok Post and also published in the National News Bureau of Thailand on 11 February 2011, by Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of Thailand, asks UNESCO to remove the Temple of Preah Vihear from the World Heritage List, claiming that the de-listing of the Temple of Preah Vihear would remove tensions between Cambodia and Thailand.”

Did the Thai Prime Minister really call on UNESCO to remove Preah Vihear from the World Heritage List? I do not know what the Bangkok Post may have reported, but the Thai government’s National News Bureau of Thailand reports a much more cautious reflection, saying that tensions at the border started as the World Heritage Site is in contested territory. Isn’t that true?

“Mr. Abhisit later said the World Heritage Committee should not have registered the Preah Vihear as one of the World’s heritage sites as overlapping territory remains unresolved.”

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“During the 1970′s, Thailand drew a secret, unilateral map pushing the frontier line deep inside Cambodia, and claimed that there is an ‘overlapping area’ of 4.6 sq.kms in the vicinity of the Temple of Preah Vihear. In fact, between Cambodia and Thailand there exists a clear international frontier line.”

If there is such a clear international frontier line, why then did Var Kim Hong, Adviser to the Royal Government in charge of State Border Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia, sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand and the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia on the Survey and Demarcation of Land Boundary in 2000? And why did Deputy Prime Minister Sok An sign a Joint Communique in June 2008 with UNESCO and Thailand, which calls contested regions ‘buffer zones’ where only ‘results of the work of the Joint Commission for Land Boundary (JBC) concerning the northern and western areas surrounding the Temple of Preah Vihear’ will bring clarity.

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“More interestingly, in July 2007 during the 31st Session of the World Heritage Committee in Christchurch, New Zealand, Thailand publicly used once again its secret, unilateral and internationally unrecognized map to protest against the inscription of the Temple of Preah Vihear to the World Heritage List. But this faked map was categorically rejected by the World Heritage Committee.”

The Thai delegation did not present anything secret – the map was among the documents openly on the table. There is no trace in the minutes of the meeting that the World Heritage Committee ‘categorically rejected’ this map. The committee suggested that the delegations of both countries should work out a plan for the meeting in 2008, as follows:

“Having taken note of the following statement by the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee which has been agreed to by the Delegation of Cambodia and the Delegation of Thailand.”

“The State Party of Cambodia and the State Party of Thailand are in full agreement that the Sacred Site of the Temple of Preah Vihear has Outstanding Universal Value and must be inscribed on the World Heritage List as soon as possible. Accordingly, Cambodia and Thailand agree that Cambodia will propose the site for formal inscription on the World Heritage List at the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee in 2008 with the active support of Thailand.”

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Therefore, the representatives of both countries finally produced the Joint Communique of 18 June 2008, which includes a map, delineating, in mutual agreement, the areas for which a border still has to be clarified by the Joint Commission for Land Boundary – all this signed by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. But the STATEMENT calls the results of these mutual agreements the “Thai so-called disputed, overlapping or 4.6 sq.km area.” Deputy Prime Minister Sok An had signed the Joint Communique which shows the spirit of cooperation:

“In the spirit of goodwill and conciliation, the Kingdom of Cambodia accepts that the Temple of Preah Vihear be nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List without at this stage a buffer zone on the northern and western areas of the Temple.”

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“In terms of the Convention 1972 and its Operational Guidelines, it is worthwhile recalling that the decision to inscribe the Temple of Preah Vihear to the World Heritage List is res judicata and therefore irreversible.

The statement by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, therefore, to delist Cambodia’s Temple of Preah Vihear from the World Heritage List proves that he lacks knowledge about the World Heritage and his move is opposing the World Heritage concept.

Consequently, it is not possible both a legal and practical point of view to delist the Temple of Preah Vihear from the World Heritage List.”

To draft such a text for an official STATEMENT for the public shows a lack of knowledge about the World Heritage Commission, its concept, and even such recent decisions as the de-listing of the city of Dresden in 2009:

Dresden is deleted from UNESCO’s World Heritage List

In June 2009, the World Heritage Committee decided to remove Germany’s Dresden Elbe Valley from UNESCO’s World Heritage List due to the building of a four-lane bridge in the heart of the cultural landscape, which meant that the property failed to keep its “outstanding universal value as inscribed.

“In short, it is clear that the Thai’s continued misinterpretation of inscription of the Temple of Preah Vihear to the World Heritage List is to justify Thai’s claims only…”

The false claim, that the listing of Preah Vihear is irreversible, has been made repeatedly, ever since its inscription. Also a claim was stated repeatedly that there is nothing to discuss with Thailand, as the Temple of Preah Vihear is located on land under Cambodian sovereignty.

But when and where was the Cambodian public made aware of the conditions laid down, together with the listing, requiring to cooperate with Thailand in the preparations from 2008 to 2009? From the minutes:

Decisions Adopted at the 32nd Session of the World Heritage Committee (Quebec City, 2008), say:

The World Heritage Committee,

2. Recalling Decision 31 COM 8B.24, which recognized that the Sacred Site of the Temple of Preah Vihear is of great international significance and has Outstanding Universal Value…

9. Notes that the property proposed for inscription is reduced and comprises only the Temple of Preah Vihear and not the wider promontory with its cliffs and caves;

10. Considers further that archaeological research is underway which could result in new significant discoveries that might enable consideration of a possible new transboundary nomination, that would require the consent of both Cambodia and Thailand;

11. Encourages Cambodia to collaborate with Thailand for safeguarding the value of the property, in view of the fact that peoples of the surrounding region have long treasured the Temple of Preah Vihear,…

14. 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,…

I am not aware of any public reports how the State Party of Cambodia convened “an international coordinating committee… no later than February 2009, inviting the participation of the Government of Thailand…”

To share this is just to remember under which conditions and with which expectations the listing was achieved. The further discussions are a continuation of the process formally started in 2007 and 2008. The withdrawal of the STATEMENT of 14.2.2011 will surely help this process, if a changed general political and military situation can reestablish the good neighborliness, which both governments assured each other on the way to the listing of the Temple of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site in 2008.

 

Norbert KLEIN

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