At its 32nd session in 2008 (Quebec, Canada), the Committee inscribed the “Temple of Preah Vihear” on the World Heritage List under criterion (i) (Decision 32 COM 8B.102). The inscribed property has a muchreduced perimeter with respect to that proposed in the original nomination, which had been examined by the World Heritage Committee at its 31st Session in 2007.
In its Decision, the Committee encouraged the State Party of Cambodia “to collaborate with Thailand for safeguarding the value of the property”, and “agreed that it would be desirable in the future to reflect its full values and landscape setting through a possible additional inscription to the World Heritage List that could capture criteria (iii) and (iv), which had been recognized by the Committee in its Decision 31 COM 8B.24”. Moreover, the Committee requested Cambodia to “convene an international coordinating committee for the safeguarding and development of the property no later than February 2009, inviting the participation of the Government of Thailand and not more than seven other appropriate international partners”. The Committee also requested Cambodia to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2009: a) a provisional map providing additional details of the inscribed property; b) an updated Nomination dossier to reflect the changes made to its perimeter; c) confirmation that the management zone for the property will include the inscribed property and buffer zone identified in the RGPP; and d) a progress report on the preparation of the management plan.
A few days after the inscription of the property on the World Heritage List (7 July 2008), troops from both countries were rapidly deployed in the area near the Temple of Preah Vihear and the World Heritage property was closed to tourists. During the months of July, August and September, various attempts for a negotiation took place, however no substantial progress was made.
In view of the special circumstances, the State party of Cambodia requested, by letter addressed to the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee dated 15 September 2008, to delay the submission of the report due for 1 February 2009 until 1 February 2010. The Chairperson of the Committee, in her response dated 8 October 2008, invited the State Party of Cambodia to submit a report on 1st May 2009, taking into consideration the need to keep the Committee informed of the progress being made at the property. The report from the State Party of Cambodia was eventually submitted on 24 April 2009.
On 3 October 2008, there was a short exchange of fire between Thai and Cambodian troops near the Preah Vihear Temple. Soldiers from both sides were reportedly injured. On 6 October, two Thai soldiers were severely wounded while stepping on landmines, near the Temple. On the afternoon of 15 October, fighting erupted in 3 different locations near the Temple of Preah Vihear, including rocket firing. Three Cambodian soldiers were eventually confirmed dead and four to seven Thai soldiers were said to be injured. Ten Thai solders were also declared missing while Cambodia claimed to have taken them prisoners.
Subsequently, negotiations between the two parties resumed, although amidst mutual accusations, including of having caused damage to the World Heritage property. These were reflected in a letter, addressed by the Ambassador of Thailand to UNESCO to the Director-General of UNESCO, dated 30 October 2008, enclosing a report on the incident of 15 October, as well as by a letter, by the Vice-Prime Minister of Cambodia to the Director-General of UNESCO, dated 12 November 2008, also enclosing a report on the incident of 15 October. The latter report contained pictures of architectural elements of the Temple allegedly hit by stray bullets and damaged. In his letter, the Vice-Prime Minister of Cambodia requested UNESCO to dispatch a mission to the site, aimed at investigating the matter.
In another letter addressed to the Chairperson of the Committee by the State Party of Cambodia, dated 8 December, the latter stated that it was ready to convene an international coordinating committee (ICC), as requested by the Committee in its Decision 32 COM 8B.102, and requested the Chairperson’s point of view on the opportunity to proceed. The Chairperson, noting that the convening of an ICC would contribute to “strengthening the international cooperation for the safeguarding of the Temple”, invited the Cambodian authorities to contact the World Heritage Centre to discuss the most appropriate modalities for its establishment.
By letter dated 30 December 2008, the Director-General of UNESCO informed the Cambodian authorities of his decision to activate the Reinforced monitoring Mechanism and to send a mission to the World Heritage property “as soon as possible”. In his letter, the Director-General clarified that the objective of the mission would be strictly limited to the assessment of the state of conservation of the World Heritage property, including with respect to the incident of 15 October 2008, and without attempting to determine the dynamics of events or the responsibilities of the parties involved. The mission, moreover, would provide an opportunity to review the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations contained in paragraph 15 of Decision 32 COM 8B.102. The Reinforced monitoring mission took place from 28 March to 6 April 2009, and was conducted by the Programme Specialist for Culture of the UNESCO Office in Phnom Penh and by an ICOMOS expert.
It should be noted that the Chairperson of the Committee had also approved, on 30 January 2009, a request for International Assistance (under Conservation and Management) for the amount of USD 30,000, aimed at supporting the Cambodian responsible authorities in the implementation of the recommendations made by the Committee. The relative funds were decentralised to the UNESCO Office in Phnom Penh for implementation on 5 February 2009.
On 2 and 3 April, immediately after the Reinforced monitoring mission had left the area, a new, violent incident occurred at Preah Vihear between Thai and Cambodian soldiers, involving several casualties among the troops, the destruction of properties (a local market and the premises of the National Authority for the Preservation of Preah Vihear) and the relocation of civilians which were settled in the vicinity of the Temple.
On 5 April, the Vice Prime Minister of Cambodia addressed a new letter to the Director-General of UNESCO informing him of the events and the consequences at the Temple. This was followed a few days later by photographic and video documentation. Subsequently, the State Party of Cambodia addressed a request of financial support to UNESCO, under the Participation Programme, for rehabilitating the infrastructure that had been destroyed during the armed incident of 2/3 April.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS have reviewed the Report submitted by the State Party on 24 April. With respect to the items requested by the World Heritage Committee in its Decision 32 COM 8B.102, the Report of the State Party outlines progress as follows:
a) Map providing additional details of the inscribed property and a map delineating the buffer zone
A map was submitted in the report presented by the State Party. This includes precise coordinates of the perimeter of the inscribed property as well as of a perimeter for the buffer zone. The buffer zone proposed by the State Party does not include the areas to the north and west of the Temple which are the subject of a territorial dispute with Thailand. In this regard, the State Party notes that this zoning is to be intended as provisional and that a final zoning “will be fixed according to the results on the border demarcation of the Joint Boundary Commission between Cambodia and Thailand”.
b) An updated Nomination File to reflect the changes made to the perimeter of the property
The report of the State Party contains a clarification on the property’s boundaries, and the reasons for their modification. An updated Nomination File which would correspond – in all its sections – to the area actually inscribed, is therefore still to be prepared and submitted.
c) Confirmation that the management zone for the property will include the inscribed property and the buffer zone identified in the Revised Graphic Plan of the Property (RGPP)
The State Party Report confirms that “the management zone for the property will include the inscribed property and the buffer zone identified in the RGPP” (whose perimeters have been clarified by the State Party through its report presented in April 2009).
d) Progress report on the development of a management plan
The State Party report contains a document entitled “Management Plan for the World Heritage nominated site of the Temple of Preah Vihear”. This document - still at a draft stage of elaboration – provides an overall framework for the management of the site, defining guiding principles, identifying conservation issues and corresponding management objectives, and outlining a legal, institutional, administrative and financial set up for their implementation.
No reference to the convening of an International Coordinating Committee is made in the State Party Report.
At the time of drafting of the present report (26 May 2009), only a preliminary draft of the Report of the Reinforced monitoring mission has been received by the World Heritage Centre. From this preliminary draft, it appears that the Cambodian authorities decided to combine the Reinforced monitoring mission with a visit by some international experts in the framework of the technical assistance activity supported through the World Heritage Fund. The two teams were brought together to the area of the Temple and accompanied by militaries, including the Cambodian Prime Ministers Bodyguard Unit (PMBU).
Based on the preliminary draft mission report, and judging from the photographs contained in the report submitted by the Cambodian authorities on 12 November, the damage occurred at the Temple of Preah Vihear as a result of the shooting incident of 15 October 2008 appears relatively minor. However, the continuous presence of troops around the property entails a risk of possible further incidents and hampers the implementation of the recommendations made by the Committee for the strengthening of the protection and management of the World Heritage property. Following the latest incident of 2 and 3 April, moreover, no further independent monitoring of the state of conservation of the Temple could be carried out.
A more comprehensive assessment of the situation will be possible once the Report of the Reinforced monitoring mission has been finalized.