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Cambodia Hopes To Join World Heritage Committee

Council Minister Sok An said Wednesday he was optimistic Cambodia would be added as a permanent member of Unesco’s World Heritage committee in voting next week.

Cambodia expects 143 of 186 members to approve the accession, following lobbying efforts in Africa, Central America, Europe and Oceania, Sok An said. Cambodia has received many messages of support from these countries, he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen sent 11 delegates around the world to garner support for the move, Sok An said, arriving Wednesday at Phnom Penh international airport from a Unesco general assembly meeting in Paris.

“For the 143 countries, we are able to have stronger hope and optimism, but the election will be 100 percent clear when the voting and ballot-counting are completed on 26 October,” he said.

As a permanent committee member, Cambodia would benefit from cost protections, experience exchanges and research, Sok An said.

In his bid for membership, Hun Sen wrote a letter to voting nations extolling “700 historic temples, more than 800 ancient mounds, some 80 ancient bridges made of stone and brick, as well as many fine arts and dances.”

Cambodia’s cultural heritage has not come without cost. After its Preah Vihear temple, on the Thai border, was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, protests erupted in Bangkok, leading to a military build-up over disputed territory near the temple. Seven soldiers have died so far, and bilateral talks have failed to resolve the problem, which began in July 2008.

More than 40 Thai parliamentarians vowed on Tuesday to demand Preah Vihear be “returned” to Thailand and to prevent Cambodia from joining Unesco’s World Heritage committee as a permanent member.

Cambodian lawmaker Cheam Yeap told the National Assembly “a small number of Thai parliamentarians” were looking to “swallow Cambodian territory.” He urged a rapid halt to their “bad ambition.”

Cambodia threatened to raise the border issue at an Asean meeting later this month, but retracted the threat after an official explanation from Bangkok dismissed media reports Thailand would seek a neutral arbitrator to the standoff.