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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thais lay claim to Lord of the dance gesture

Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok


A young Cambodian girl performs the jeeb hand position
during a traditional dance. Photo: AP

TROOPS are withdrawing as tensions have eased between Thailand and Cambodia over the disputed ancient hilltop temple Preah Vihear.

But a new irritant has emerged that is stirring nationalist sentiment in both countries: ownership of a graceful hand position that is part of traditional dance and shadow plays.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is likely to consider the origins of the jeeb - a hand position where the thumb touches the index finger and the three other fingers are fanned out.
Thailand's new Culture Minister Sukumol Kunplome has made ownership of the jeeb a priority.

In 2008 Cambodia had Khmer shadow theatre included on UNESCO's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, along with the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, also known as Khmer Classical Dance. The list included Khmer hand gestures, including the jeeb (right).

Thai officials have advised Ms Sukumol that Thailand can also register the jeeb and other shadow plays with UNESCO.

''This is the first mission and we will proceed urgently because people are interested,'' Ms Sukumol said. ''They are part of the Thai cultural heritage, so if another country has registered them, we have to find a solution.''

Ms Sukumol said the jeeb has been used widely to promote Thailand's culture and it would be controversial if it was branded ''Cambodian''.

To pursue its claim, Thailand will have to first become a member of UNESCO's Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Meanwhile, tensions have eased over Preah Vihear after the installation last week of Thailand's six-party coalition government led by Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is living in exile in Dubai.

Thaksin is a former financial adviser to the Cambodia government.

Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to set-up a committee to discuss the Preah Vihear dispute over which the two countries have fought each other numerous times.

Thousands of villagers were displaced by armed clashes at the temple and another disputed border zone earlier this year.

There is talk of a summit between Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and Ms Yingluck within weeks.

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