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Thursday, July 29, 2010

In Brasil: Thailand objects again to Preah Vihea plans

Thailand has re-raised objections to the World Heritage status of Preah Vihear temple on the northern border.

At a meeting of Unesco in Brazil, Thai officials said they do not agree with a Cambodian management plan for the 11th-Century temple, which is now at the heart of an ongoing military standoff on the border.

Both Thailand and Cambodia have had troops amassed along the border since the July 2008 inception of the temple as a Heritage site under Cambodian control.

Unesco spokeswoman Sue Williams told VOA Khmer from Brazil that Cambodia had presented a plan for consideration. However, she said the border dispute between the two countries was “strictly bilateral” and declined to comment further on the Thai objections.

Cambodia's management plan, submitted by a delegation led by Cabinet Minister Sok An, has provoked strong disapproval from Thailand, which claims a 4-kilometer strip of land near Preah Vihear temple.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was quoted in the Bangkok Post saying Thailand would reconsider its ties with Unesco if the body approves the plan.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said Thailand’s argument was to ultimately co-manage the temple, which sits on a high precipice overlooking the plains of Preah Vihear province.

Unesco Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement that the Brazil meeting, which ends Aug. 3, will examine the state of conservation of the temple.

“Protecting and enhancing our natural and cultural heritage means building the peace, respect and solidarity which lies at the heart of Unesco's mission,” she said. “It is our common responsibility to makes these sites emblems of peace, dialogue and reconciliation.”

At least eight soldiers have died in ensuing skirmishes since the military standoff began, along a border that has yet to be fully demarcated by either side.

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Fishermen say they are forced into illegal catches

Local fishermen on the Tonle Sap lake in the province of Battambang say they continue to fish illegally during the off-season.

In interviews with VOA Khmer, the fishermen said they have no choice but to continue fishing, sometimes with banned equipment, in order to feed their families, despite a three-month ban instituted by the government that begins each July.

“The ban is like breaking our rice pot,” said 53-year-old fisherman Chhun Leang.

He sat in a wooden house on the great lake, in the floating village of Anlung Ta Our, in Ek Phnom district, and when boats passed their wakes shook his home.

“Unlike the people on land who are farmers, we fishermen have no land for farming,” he said. “We only depend on fishing.”

Commercial fishing for the next three months is forbidden. This is the breeding season. Small nets and handmade gear are allowed, but fishermen like Chhun Leang say that isn't enough.

He earns about $250 a month, working a medium-sized net rig that is banned this time a year. Even if these were permitted, he said, these days he barely catches enough fish to feed his family.

“So despite the ban, myself and other fishermen in the commune still secretly fish with our rigging,” he said. There are crackdowns, he said, but he keeps fishing. “Otherwise, we cannot survive.”

His neighbor five houses down, Yon Phann, agreed.

“If we didn’t do it, we would have nothing to eat,” he said, looking at fishing nets hanging on a nearby wall. “Fishing is our farming here.”

More than 70 percent of the 10,000 people living in this commune, Koh Chi Verng, are fishermen. The rest sell goods or repair boats.

Commune Chief Bun Beng said that every year people face hard times during the three-month ban, so at times he turns a blind eye to some illegal fishing.

“They can catch just a kilo or two of fish a day, and they sell it for rice to eat,” he said in an interview at his own floating house. “This is all they can do here because we have no rice to harvest.”

On the other hand, he said, he advises people not to use heavy rigging during the ban, and he encourages them to breed fish and raise eels to supplement their catches.

Nao Thuok, head of Agriculture Ministry’s fishery administration, said there is no exception for any particular fishing community in the use of banned gear this season.

“Any such act will be cracked down on,” he said. “This is according to the law, which must be implemented to benefit all the people across the country, not just that particular community or a small number of others.”

“All floating communities around the Tonle Sap should only fish for family consumption during this ban season,” he said, “so that more fish can breed for them to catch at the end of the season.”

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Thailand Threatens to Pull Out of UN World Heritage Committee Over Border Dispute

Preah Vihear temple is seen near Cambodian-Thai border in Preah Vihear province, about 245 kilometers (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia (File photo)

Thailand is threatening to withdraw support from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization if the U.N. World Heritage Committee backs a Cambodian plan to manage a 900-year-old Hindu temple site bordering the two countries.

The Thai government's threat to withdraw from the 21-nation UNESCO World Heritage Committee was made as the panel prepared to vote on a new Cambodian proposed management plan for the 900-year-old Khmer temple.

Source of tensionThe Preah Vihear temple site lies immediately inside the Cambodian border on the top of a 525-meter-high cliff in the Dangrek Mountain range. But access to the temple complex is only readily available from the Thai side.

span class="fullpost">In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled that that the temple is on the Cambodian side of the border, but failed to determine ownership of an adjacent piece of land. Since then, Thailand has sought to have both countries jointly seek World Heritage listing for the site.

But in 2008, then Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama was forced to resign after a Thai court found he had breached the constitution by signing a joint communiqué with Cambodia. This opened the way for Cambodia to make a separate application for World Heritage listing.

New friction

Under a proposed development plan for the temple, Thailand fears Cambodia may create a buffer zone around the site, marking what Thailand sees as occupation of its territory.

The Thai government has been lobbying committee member states to postpone the vote until both countries settle the border disputes covering land immediately surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Minister for Natural Resources Suvit Khunkitti attended the meeting and had the full backing of the Cabinet for Thailand to withdraw from the World Heritage Committee.

"If the process adopting that plan is approved, not only Khun Suvit is authorized to object to that plan - not to vote for that plan - he is authorized to express his ideas, his concerns and also the wishes of the Thai government to reconsider the membership of the World Heritage Committee," Panitan said.

Thai proposal

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is calling for a return to a 2000 agreement centered on the border demarcation. He said Thailand would only accept Cambodia's management plan if the temple is jointly listed between the two countries.

The temple site gained World Heritage listing in 2008, but has remained a source of nationalist tensions since then. Pro-nationalist groups in Thailand protested earlier this week outside the UNESCO offices in Bangkok.

Avoiding clashes

In recent years, rising tensions between Thailand and Cambodia have led to cross-border clashes, with the Thai army accusing Cambodian troops of laying land mines in the region.

UNESCO's director general, Irina Bokova, released a statement calling for dialogue in safeguarding the temple site. She also said the World Heritage Committee's first concern is to protect and promote the region's heritage, and emblems of peace, dialogue and reconciliation.
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