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Friday, May 27, 2011

Thai team claims Unesco backs its proposal to delay management plan


Though Thailand and Cambodia yesterday failed to reach common ground on the management of the much-contested Preah Vihear Temple, the Thai team claimed that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) was supporting its proposal to delay the plan.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti had given him the "good news".

Suwit was in Paris yesterday to meet Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova to negotiate a delay in the World Heritage Committee's consideration of the Preah Vihear management plan at its upcoming 35th session on June 19-29.

Suwit claimed that Bokova supported Thailand's proposal to delay consideration of the plan, adding that she later met with Sok An and Senior Minister in Charge of Border Affairs Va Kim Hong to propose that Cambodia withdraw its management plan until both countries could determine their common border.

The Cambodian delegation at the Paris meeting said it disagreed with the proposal, but was leaving the decision up to the government in Phnom Penh.

The meeting was held in order to settle differences between the two neighbouring countries over the World Heritage Site inscription of Preah Vihear ahead of the committee's next session.

Thailand has been accusing Cambodia of trespassing territory adjacent to the temple that Thailand claims comes under its sovereignty and is refusing to consider the neighbouring country's management plan for Preah Vihear until both countries are able to settle the boundary dispute.

The two countries have been at loggerheads over Preah Vihear for a long time now, but the conflict intensified after the temple was inscribed in 2008. Major clashes broke out in the border region in February, causing lots of casualties and damages.

"We want to tell the World Heritage Committee that Preah Vihear's World Heritage inscription led to military conflict between the two countries," Abhisit told reporters. "If Cambodia insists on continuing [with the plan], we will protect our rights. We will tell the world that Thailand has never created problems."

Beside the management plan, the two countries are also fighting the Preah Vihear case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), because Cambodia has asked the court to clarify its 1962 ruling on the temple.

The court will hold a public hearing on Monday and Tuesday regarding Cambodia's request asking the court to grant provisional measures to have Thai troops withdrawn from the temple's vicinity.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya flew to The Hague for the hearing yesterday. His Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong is also expected to be present.

The court will take three weeks to make a decision on the provisional measures and will ask both sides to submit their opinion on the ruling's interpretation by September or October, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi.
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Cambodia’s troubled past inspired O.C. playwright


Cambodia is a land filled with untold stories.

They're everywhere: in the beautiful relics of an ancient religion at the temples of Angkor Wat, in the unspeakable tragedies of the country's more recent past under the Pol Pot regime.

"It's a place that leaves a deep impression. It inspired me in ways I didn't expect," said Irvine-born playwright David Wiener, whose new play, "Extraordinary Chambers," was prompted by a visit to Cambodia. It debuts June 1 at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.

Wiener traveled to Cambodia in 2008 with his sister, wife and parents. "It was a trip to Thailand and then everyone went on this short side trip to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat."

The family's guide on the Cambodian trek was a man named Sopoan. "He was very knowledgeable and really good at describing the history and art of the place," Wiener recalled. "During the course of our tour he and I developed a deeper dialogue."

Sopoan revealed his past to Wiener.
"During the Khmer Rouge era he had been a high school physics teacher -- a dangerous occupation then. Intellectuals and educated people were the enemy. I had this humbling and unsettling feeling that I was ... just encountering the veneer of a place and beneath it was all of the complex history and deep loss. And this man put it into a human, empathetic frame."

Sopoan's story hinted at a time and place that tried people in unimaginable ways. That revelation galvanized the playwright.

"I came back to New York and dropped the play I was working on and immediately started reading a lot about Cambodia. I wasn't even aware that there was this huge international effort to reconcile the genocide that happened there in the 1970s and lay the blame at the feet of these old men and women who were still alive."

Wiener also discovered that the Pol Pot era of forced agrarian socialist reform (1976-79) is still a delicate subject in Cambodia.

"To this day the regime of Pol Pot and the subsequent civil war still isn't taught in Cambodian schools. You're talking about a country that eliminated 20 percent of its population -- an entire generation, really." (By some estimates, 2.5 million Cambodians died as a result of the unrest.) "Anyone you meet there is not that many degrees removed from the violence that happened. There are perpetrators living with victims."


Wiener, a 1991 graduate of Irvine's University High School, has won several major awards and received commissions from Atlantic Theater Company, South Coast Repertory, SoHo Rep and A Contemporary Theater. His Hollywood drama, "System Wonderland," was produced at SCR in 2007.

"Extraordinary Chambers" is a departure for him in several respects, the playwright said. This is the first time he has delved deeply into another culture and created characters based on notorious real-life sources.

"Extraordinary Chambers" pits American and Cambodian values against each other in a story that involves an American telecommunications executive, his troubled wife, and a mysterious Cambodian official named Dr. Heng. He and his wife, Rom Chang, live in a dilapidated villa. Heng has a taste for expensive French wine and oozes old world charm; Rom is suspicious and withdrawn.

Gradually, secrets are revealed as characters learn more about each other and conflicting needs collide.

The American couple, Carter and Mara, desperately wants to be parents -- a plot element that paralleled Wiener's life at the time (he's now the father of a 16-month old child).

"My wife and I were struggling to have children and I think that need was present in my own life. And the isolating aspect of what it's like for a couple to go through fertility treatments and then adoption in a foreign land, I really wanted to make that an element in the play."


Wiener said Heng and his wife closely resemble figures from the Khmer Rouge regime. What interested him wasn't their culpability but the moral circumstances that they were forced to face.

"It's easy to look at people who are instrumental in acts of horrible violence and dismiss or condemn them. But their internal rationale is very fascinating -- the reasons they say why they did what they did."

Wiener came away form his research convinced that there is less separating us from war-torn Cambodia than we think.

"Really, the only thing different between us and them is the circumstances. It's hard for us to imagine what we are capable of to ensure our own survival."

Wiener said that writing "Extraordinary Chambers" pushed his skills and sensitivities to the limit.

"It's a tough situation as a writer and a challenging one. This particular history doesn't belong to me.

"But the play is about what it's like to engage in the history that doesn't belong to you. I tried to be sensitive and careful and accurate, and as empathetic as possible. So much of what drove me to write the play was how little I understood, and how badly I wanted to understand."
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UNESCO convenes meeting with Cambodia and Thailand over Preah Vihear dispute

UNITED NATIONS (BNO NEWS) -- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Friday convened a meeting with Cambodia and Thailand delegations over the Preah Vihear dispute.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova facilitated three days of bilateral meetings between to discuss conservation issues concerning the World Heritage site of Preah Vihear temple.

The meeting was held in a positive atmosphere of cooperation and dialogue. Bokova convened the discussions in order to reach an agreement on enhancing the temple's state of conservation following recent threats to the property and the border disputes near the site.

Bokova expressed satisfaction that the two governments attended the meeting but no agreement was reached. However, Suwit Khunkitti, Thai Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, and Cambodian Vice-Prime Minister Sok An discussed the issues affecting the World Heritage site.

"I appeal to both countries to pursue efforts towards achieving a common agreement before the World Heritage Committee session in June in a spirit of cooperation and constructive dialogue," added Bokova.

Also on Friday, Thailand announced that Caretaker Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will present the Thailand's argument in the Preah Vihear dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) next week in the Hague.

Cambodia previously claimed property of the 11th century temple and the disputed surrounding area based on a 1962 verdict by ICJ. The Cambodian government asked the international court to clarify the ruling.

The 1962 ruling stated that the temple was in Cambodian soil but did not clarify the ownership of the surrounding area. Thai and Cambodian troops have been engaged in border fighting since earlier this year.

Both nations' soldiers remain deployed in the 4.6 square kilometer area near the ancient Preah Vihear temple on their shared border. Tensions first escalated between the two countries in July 2008 following the build-up of military forces near the site.

The United Nations Security Council urged both sides to establish a permanent ceasefire after at least 10 people were killed. Clashes resumed in February and the 900-year-old temple was damaged during clashes.

In 2008, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List in recognition of its outstanding universal value. It is considered an outstanding example of Khmer architecture and consists of a complex of sanctuaries linked by pavements and staircases on an 800-meter-long axis.
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