PM refuses challenge by Hun Sen

WHC decision ‘is not Cambodia’s concern’

When Hun Sen challenged him to formally sign the Thai withdrawal from World Heritage, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told the Cambodian premier to look after his own country and stay out of Thai affairs.

The government has brushed off a challenge by Cambodia that it formally withdraw from the World Heritage Committee, while denying it was playing up the issue for political gain.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday said Cambodia should stop interfering in Thai affairs, after its leader Hun Sen stepped into the debate over the government’s decision to leave the WHC.

Hun Sen has challenged the government to officially inform the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) if it was serious about withdrawing.

“If you have the heart of a son, you will write a formal letter to the WHC,” he told a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh.

Political commentators have criticised the government for showboating over the issue to attract the support of voters allied to the People’s Alliance for Democracy, who have campaigned for the government to withdraw from the WHC to safeguard Thai territory in the disputed border area.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who walked out of a WHC meeting in Paris last week, has been forced to defend his decision amid claims that it discredits the country internationally.

Mr Abhisit said Thailand’s decision did not concern Hun Sen, and he should not interfere in the government’s work.

He said the government would discuss with Unesco the effects of the WHC’s decision not to consider Cambodia’s management plan for Preah Vihear temple.

The matter concerned Thailand and Unesco only, Mr Abhisit said. He insisted the government’s decision to withdraw from the WHC was meant to protect Thai territory, and not done merely for domestic political advantage.

Thailand has yet to formally withdraw from the body, despite Mr Suwit’s assertion from Paris last week that his withdrawal took immediate effect.

The government had campaigned against the WHC discussing Cambodia’s management plan for the disputed Preah Vihear temple, and threatened to withdraw if the plan was put on the agenda.

Sources say the meeting was drafting a statement confirming that discussion of the plan would be postponed, which was in line with a decision reached at an earlier WHC meeting in May.

However, the Thai delegation took exception to the wording of the draft, so Mr Suwit walked out.

Campaigning in Samut Sakhon yesterday, Mr Abhisit, who is also Democrat Party leader, said the public should decide whether to vote for the party that was “really” protecting the national interest in a way that might upset the leader of a neighbouring country, or back the local party that was close to Hun Sen.

He was referring to Pheu Thai Party, whose de facto leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, worked as a consultant to Hun Sen’s government in 2009.

Mr Abhisit said he did not believe Thais wanted to risk losing border territory, and that his government had succeeded in foiling the World Heritage Committee’s consideration of the management plan.

He said if Cambodia sincerely wanted to solve bilateral problems, it should stop complaining to the international community about their border dispute, and resume bilateral negotiations with Thailand.

Cambodian complaints in international forums would only compound bilateral tension, Mr Abhisit said.

Meanwhile, Mr Abhisit denied a rumour in Cambodia that Thailand would attack Cambodia as a ruse to postpone Sunday’s election.

Reports suggest Cambodia is reinforcing its military near the border. Mr Abhisit said that while the Thai army had yet to reinforce its own troops, soldiers stood ready to defend the country.

First Army commander Lt Gen Udomdet Seetabut, said Cambodia had fielded infantry companies at two important locations opposite Sa Kaeo province.

While movements on the Cambodian side did not yet justify any concerns, he had ordered troops to strictly screen immigrants and their vehicles entering the country from Cambodia.

In Surin province, Lt Gen Tawatchai Samutsakhon, commander of the 2nd Army, said Cambodia was replacing soldiers along the border, and the risk of a clash could not be ruled out.

Visits to the Ta Muen Thom temple in Phanom Dong Rak district had been suspended for safety reasons.

Cambodian soldiers visited the temple to monitor the movements of Thai soldiers. Thai soldiers told their Cambodian counterparts to disarm before entering the temple.

Border trade continued and gamblers still crossed the border to casinos in Cambodia through the Chong Jom border pass in Surin as usual.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Thailand’s withdrawal from the World Heritage Convention complied with a cabinet resolution which required action in case of developments which might affect sovereignty.

Mr Abhisit said on Tuesday that the next government should decide Thailand’s fate with the WHC.

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