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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Temple spat rages in Thailand after UNESCO listing

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's top court questioned on Tuesday the legality of Bangkok's support for a Cambodian bid to list a disputed Hindu temple as a World Heritage site, giving the opposition another weapon to attack the government.

The Constitutional Court ruled 8-1 that a communique approved by the cabinet in June backing Cambodia's bid to list the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple had required the approval of parliament.

UNESCO, the U.N. agency for culture and education, voted on Monday to approve Cambodia's request to register the temple, which has been at the centre of a bitter 50-year dispute on the Thai-Cambodian border.

Thailand's opposition Democrat Party jumped on the verdict, saying it would launch a Senate petition to oust Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, who sought cabinet approval for the communique.

Under Thailand's constitution, lawmakers can ask the speaker of the Senate to investigate unconstitutional actions by a minister who could be ousted in a vote by the upper chamber.

"We are aiming to terminate Noppadon first," chief opposition whip Satit Wongnongtaey told Reuters. He said they could eventually submit a petition to remove the entire cabinet.

The Democrats and other opponents of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have whipped up a nationalist frenzy over the temple, which many Thais believe belongs to Thailand, to try to kick out the five-month-old, pro-Thaksin government.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) -- the motley group of businessmen, academics and royalists whose street campaign against Thaksin led to his removal in a 2006 coup -- said it was mulling its legal options.

"We won't mobilise people to protest against the UNESCO decision, but we will look for ways to oust this government," PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said.

The PAD had accused the government of backing the temple's listing in return for business concessions in Cambodia for Thaksin. The government, Thaksin and Phnom Penh denied the PAD's allegations.

TEMPLE TANTRUMS

The listing of the temple -- which the International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 belonged to Cambodia, was cheered by Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodians on the streets of the capital Phnom Penh.

"This is another proud achievement for our people, the people in the region as well as the whole world that the temple is being recognised as the Khmer's greatest architecture," Hun Sen said in a statement.

UNESCO's Bangkok office said Preah Vihear's listing was based on a new plan which differed from the joint Thai-Cambodian communique issued on June 18 and criticized by the Thai court.

UNESCO said it "has no implications for any ongoing negotiations concerning the boundary between the two countries and does not prejudice the rights of both governments to reach an amicable settlement of the disputed boundary".

Nevertheless, some Thais were angered by the decision.

"The government should have tried much harder in convincing the UNESCO people not to believe what Cambodia has told them. The government must be held responsible," student Natcha Lorsuwannarat said.

Charnvit Kasetsiri, a distinguished Thai historian, said the issue had been politicized by Thaksin's opponents.

"It is not a problem between Thailand and Cambodia, but it is a problem among Thais," he told Reuters Television. "It is a black hole Thais have fallen into and found it hard to get out."

(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak and Songphon Koisiriphong in BANGKOK, and Ek Madra in PHNOM PENH)
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Cambodian official hails inscription of Preah Vihear Temple as World Heritage Site

By Xia Lin, Long Heng

PHNOM PENH, July 8 (Xinhua) -- Senior government officials issued statements and citizens took to the streets here Tuesday to celebrate the decision by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to list the Preah Vihear Temple as World Heritage Site.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said that "it is a new pride for the Cambodian people as well as peoples in the world that the Preah Vihear Temple is recognized as top Khmer architecture and it has a universal values for the humanities."

"I would like to express my profound and honest thanks to all the people at all levels that always supported the government's work and expressed their understanding and patience to protect the national interests and make peace with the Thais as good friend and neighboring country," he said.

The Preah Vihear Temple is the third Khmer heritage listed as world heritage, after the Angkor Wat Temple in 1992 and the royal ballet style in 2003, he added.

Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Council of Ministers, said that the Cambodian-Thai ties won't be affected by the listing.

"Though Cambodia and Thailand may have had some differences of views regarding the listing of the temple, this issue has not in any way affected the long-standing ties of friendship and co-operation between our two kingdoms and peoples," he said.

The Cambodian government has a long-standing position that "the inscription of the temple will not affect nor prejudice the rights of Cambodia and Thailand on the demarcation work of the Joint Commission for Land Boundary of the two countries," he added.

Hor Namhong, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said that "the listing of the Preah Vihear Temple is the success of civilization and culture for the Khmer people."

The success didn't break the relationship and cooperation between Cambodia and Thailand, even as Thailand canceled the joint communique on the Preah Vihear Temple issues, he said.

Thailand didn't lose a centimeter of land to Cambodia and Cambodia didn't lose either for listing the Preah Vihear Temple, he said, adding that both sides have plan to plant demarcation posts in accordance with the border and geographic lines specified in bilateral treaty.

Meoung Son, president of the Khmer Civilization Fund, said that he will build a museum at 20,000 U.S. dollars for the Preah VihearTemple.

He appealed Thailand to hand over artifacts of the Preah Vihear Temple to the museum.

"The temple will become a potential tourist destination," he added.

Meanwhile on Tuesday afternoon, thousands of people went to the streets of Phnom Penh, danced, sang and waved Cambodian flags, chanting "Long live Preah Vihear Temple!"

Earlier Tuesday morning in Quebec, Canada, all the 21 members of the World Heritage Committee during its 32nd session unanimously approved the Cambodian application to list the temple as World Heritage Site.

The site of the building, which lies along the disputed Thai-Cambodian border, has long been a point of contention between the two Asian neighbors, Cambodia and Thailand.

Cambodia started seeking the status of World Heritage Site for the temple in 2001, hoping for influx of tourists and international funding that normally accompanies the designation.

But Thailand has vetoed its neighbor's submissions amid fears the status would include disputed land along the border.

In May, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government bypassed the Parliament and endorsed Cambodia's application. Thai critics have accused him of violating the country's sovereignty, and the government withdrew its support late last month.

Fortunately for Cambodia, last minute efforts by the Thai delegation to delay the vote and to have joint management of the temple failed at Tuesday's session of the World Heritage Committee.

Last week, Cambodia shut up the gate at the temple after Thais conducted demonstration around. It also deployed police at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh fearing that possible anti-Thai parade there.

Back to 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple and the land it occupies to Cambodia, a decision that therefore rankles Thais.
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Singapore Petroleum, partners starts exploration well in Cambodia

SINGAPORE, Jul 08, 2008 (Thomson Financial via COMTEX)Oil refiner Singapore Petroleum Co. (SPC) said it and its partners in the Block B project in offshore Cambodia have started drilling to test for hydrocarbon potential.

Drilling of the well in water depth of about 75 metres, located about 160 kilometres southwest of Cambodia's Sihanoukville port, is expected to be completed in 15 days.

"The drilling will not have any material impact on the earnings per share and the net tangible asset per share of the SPC group of companies for the current financial year," SPC said in a statement.

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