Cablegate: Thailand's View of the Preah Vihear Temple Issue

DE RUEHBK #0871/01 0791027
R 191027Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: DECL: 3/19/2018


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1. (SBU) Thailand supports UNESCO's inscription of the Preah Vihear
Temple as a World Heritage Site as long as Thailand's territorial
rights are preserved; the temple sits in Cambodian territory at a
point where the Thai-Cambodian border is not demarcated. As MFA
Deputy Director General for East Asian Affairs Pisanu Suvanajata
explained during a March 11 meeting, the RTG believes that to date
UNESCO had considered only Cambodia's perspective of the issue.
This was despite numerous attempts by the Thais to present their
case to Cambodia and the international community, including a
January 24 meeting in Paris with UNESCO's Assistant Director General
for Culture Francois Riviere. This lack of balanced information
culminated in Thailand's formal protest of and "disassociation" with
Cambodia's February 1 progress report to the World Heritage Center.
The Thais described the report as downplaying numerous topographical
and historical facts based solely on information provided by
Cambodian authorities. Throughout our meeting, Pisanu emphasized
that Thailand wanted to avoid overt politicization of an issue the
RTG currently viewed as relatively minor. In advance of the World
Heritage Center's vote on the matter in July, the RTG planned to
launch a proactive information campaign targeting World Heritage
Council members. End summary.


2. (U) Situated on the edge of a 1,700 foot cliff and straddling the
Thai-Cambodia border, the Khmer temple of Preah Vihear has been a
point of contention between the two countries for more than 100
years. The source of the dispute is the border demarcation in the
immediate vicinity of the temple, an overlapping area of 4.6 square
kilometers. Cambodia relies on a 1907 map created by Thai and
French colonial authorities (then ruling Cambodia) that follows the
watershed line of the Dangrek mountain range, while Thailand prefers
an updated map depicting a slightly different version of the
watershed line south of the Cambodian boundary claim.

3. (U) In June 1962 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued
a judgment acknowledging Cambodia's sovereignty over the temple
complex. MFA Deputy Director General for East Asian Affairs Pisanu
Suvanajata stated that Thailand always respected the ICJ judgment on
sovereignty, but that the ICJ did not address the border dispute.
Following the ICJ decision, Thailand redrew its boundary claim to
put the actual temple (but not the supporting buildings and land
that comprise the rest of the complex) in Cambodian territory. But
the two governments never finalized their overlapping border claims.
As recently as 2003 the bilateral development commission
(established between Thailand and Cambodia following the January
2003 anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh) agreed to jointly develop the
area of the Preah Vihear temple, but left resolution of the border
issue for an undetermined future date.


3. (U) In a March 11 briefing, Pisanu, joined by colleagues from the
MFA's Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs, presented a clear
case as to why Thailand disagreed with Cambodia's approach to the
inscription of the Preah Vihear temple complex as a UNESCO World
Heritage site. The RTG's primary argument is that Cambodia
unilaterally submitted the nomination file to UNESCO without
consulting or informing Thailand and without acknowledging the
existence of conflicting border claims to the temple complex. In
July 2007, on the sidelines of the 31st session of the World
Heritage Committee, a 'Special Task Force on the Inscription of the
Temple of Preah Vihear as UNESCO World Heritage Site' met to discuss
outstanding issues preventing the temple's successful inscription.
The task force encouraged Cambodia and Thailand to develop an
appropriate management plan to ensure the conservation of the

4. (SBU) According to Pisanu, Thailand immediately offered Cambodia
several options for technical assistance and cooperation. But
instead of working together with Thailand, Cambodia independently
solicited management plans and technical reports from French,
Belgian, and U.S. specialists. Not until December 2007 did Cambodia
respond to Thailand's proposals by requesting a Thai version of a
management plan for the portion of the temple complex located in the
disputed and access areas. Thailand dispatched a group of Thai
experts to undertake a field survey at the temple site in early

5. (SBU) Pisanu explained that Thailand's experts presented their

BANGKOK 00000871 002.2 OF 002

findings at a meeting convened by the Cambodian government for
interested parties January 11-13. The stated purpose of the meeting
was to exchange views on the various technical reports prepared for
the progress report Cambodia had to submit to the World Heritage
Center. The Thai experts concluded that the information used to
prepare the French, Belgian, and U.S. reports derived solely from
Cambodian authorities and that the findings of these foreign experts
misrepresented important topographical and historical facts.
Thailand felt this severely undermined the "universal value of the
temple as a World Heritage Site," and could lead to "serious
misunderstandings." However, Cambodia did not include the views
expressed by the Thai experts in the draft version of the progress
report. When Thailand complained, the UNESCO team and foreign
experts maintained that they had no mandate to consider boundary or
political issues.

6. (SBU) In response, Thailand lodged a formal protest before
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and disassociated itself from
the report. According to Pisanu, Cambodia went ahead and submitted
the progress report to UNESCO with no mention of Thai opposition.
The progress report also included a new claim that the temple's main
entrance is not the primary staircase (which originates in Thai
territory), but an access area from the west (which originates in
Cambodian territory).


7. (SBU) Thailand believed in the importance of making permanent
arrangements for the proper development and conservation of the
Preah Vihear temple, stated Pisanu. The RTG's solution to the
dispute would be to engage Cambodia to agree to a legal document
that reserved each country's position on the border demarcation and
detailed what could and could not be done in the disputed area. The
idea would be to continue development of the temple as a World
Heritage site while the border issue was being resolved. As such,
rather than a unilateral inscription by UNESCO, Thailand would like
to see the temple complex treated as a transboundary property,
inscribed jointly by Thailand and Cambodia. Pisanu claimed that
this was the Thai position all along. When asked what the
Cambodians thought of this viewpoint, Pisanu responded he was
"cautiously optimistic" his counterparts were open to the idea.

8. (SBU) Thailand submitted a formal statement to the Cambodian
government during the first week in March again clarifying the Thai
position. The RTG is now awaiting a response before follow-up
meetings slated to occur later in the month. In the meantime,
Pisanu stated that the Thais are working hard to prevent the issue
from blowing out of proportion. The inscription decision is
scheduled to be made during the 32nd session of the World Heritage
Committee, to take place in Ottawa in July. In the lead-up to this
meeting, Pisanu explained that the RTG intended to treat this as a
technical issue, and wanted to avoid stirring up national
sentiments. However, he expressed concern that with national
elections to take place in Cambodia in late July, the Cambodian
government or even opposition parties would try to politicize the
issue to drum up support.


9. (SBU) Thailand clearly supports UNESCO's inscription of the Preah
Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site, and appears to espouse
concern for proper management and conservation of the temple
complex. At the same time, in the past 100 years Thailand has not
resolved this peculiar border dispute, and seems content to put off
final resolution indefinitely. Today, the vast majority of tourists
to the temple complex access it from Thai territory. UNESCO's
pronouncement of the temple as a World Heritage Site located in
Cambodia, and Cambodia's unilateral development of the site
(including an alternative access point from Cambodia) may slightly
diminish Thailand's tourism revenues. Thailand feels snubbed by
UNESCO officials, which the RTG claims are not taking Thailand's
concerns seriously, and now plans to take its argument to member
countries of the World Heritage Committee. Our briefing was one of
several Pisanu had scheduled this month. These briefings were to be
supported by an excursion trip the MFA's Department of International
Organizations was organizing for later this week for Bangkok-based
diplomats. The trip was to have included a visit to the Preah
Vihear temple. However, after the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok
protested that the RTG planned the excursion without seeking prior
authorization from the Cambodian government, the MFA canceled the
planned visit to the Preah Vihear temple.


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