Thailand quits heritage body amid temple row

BANGKOK, June 26, 2011 (AFP) - Thailand has withdrawn from UNESCO'S World Heritage Convention because of a row with Cambodia over a disputed 900-year-old temple, a top official said.

Thailand announced its decision at a meeting in Paris on Saturday, its representative to the talks, Natural Resource and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, told Thai media in the French capital.

"We withdraw to say we do not accept any decision from this meeting," he said.

The World Heritage Convention sets the criteria for UNESCO's list of the world's most important cultural and natural assets.

Suwit said that Thailand took the decision because the Convention agreed to put Cambodia's proposed management plan for the Preah Vihear temple on its agenda.

Preah Vihear is at the centre of a border conflict between the neighbouring countries that has left 28 people dead in two episodes of fierce fighting between their armies earlier this year.

Thailand -- along with Cambodia -- was one of 21 members of the Convention selected to serve on the World Heritage Committee, which meets once a year to decide on additions to the World Heritage list.

Cambodia in May launched a legal bid at the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest UN tribunal, seeking to force Thailand to pull troops from disputed land near the temple ruins.

The court ruled in 1962 that the temple itself belonged to Cambodia but both Phnom Penh and Bangkok claim ownership of a 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) patch of nearby land.

Observers say the governments of both countries have used the issue in an attempt to stir patriotism and boost their approval ratings.