Thailand's prime minister on Sunday defended his country's decision to quit the U.N.'s World Heritage Convention, saying its committee's consideration of a Cambodian plan to manage a protected temple on Thailand's border would increase tensions.
Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters it didn't make sense for Cambodia to unilaterally offer a plan for managing the Preah Vihear temple site, which is mostly easily accessible through land under dispute by both countries. At least 20 people have died in attacks in the area surrounding the temple since 2008, when the site received World Heritage status over Thailand's objections.
Thailand announced its withdrawal from the convention on Saturday at a meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Paris. The chief of its delegation there, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, said Thailand was withdrawing because the committee's consideration of Cambodia's plan could threaten Thai sovereignty and territory. Thailand was also part of the 21-member committee.
Thailand says the management plan should not be taken up until after the border is clearly demarcated.
"We are reaffirming that it simply doesn't make sense to accept the idea that Cambodia unilaterally can push ahead with the management of the temple as a World Heritage property," Abhisit said Sunday. "It clearly will have an effect on the dispute that is ongoing and it will only contribute to further tension and greater risk of violence."
The border dispute has stirred nationalist sentiment on both sides, but analysts say the dispute is largely driven by domestic tensions within each country rather than tensions between them. Abhisit and his Democrat Party are trailing in polls for a July 2 general election, and rallying around the flag could give them a boost.
The conflict involves small swaths of land along the border that have been disputed for more than half a century. Armed clashes have broken out six times since 2008, but neither side appears to be trying to capture territory, and few believe the conflict will evolve into full-scale war.
The International Court of Justice gave Cambodia control of the temple in 1962. Thailand says it does not contest that ruling, though hardline nationalists oppose it.
Cambodia in May appealed to the world court for a clarification of the 1962 ruling and to order Thailand to cease hostilities. It argued in its written application that the court's opinion "could then serve as a basis for a final resolution of this dispute through negotiation or any other peaceful means."