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Thailand: Neighbours Contest Ownership of Traditional Dance


ALTHOUGH both Cambodia and Thailand have lodged plans to list their own versions of traditional mask dances on Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage List, the two bids will not ignite conflict between the two countries, Thai government leaders said yesterday.

The weekly Cabinet meeting discussed media reports that reported Cambodian social media users expressing anger over an idea proposed by Thailand's Culture Ministry to list the Khon Mask dance on the UN heritage list.

"The cabinet talked about this matter a little bit but considered it a non-issue [for the relations of the two countries]," Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said.

Cambodian media reported earlier that social media users angrily claimed the Thai version was based on the Khmer Lakhon Khol tradition, blaming the government in Phnom Penh for doing little to register the cultural heritage.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen responded by saying his government is preparing to list the Lakhon Khol as a UN intangible cultural heritage.

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha said Cambodia's possible registration of Lakhon Khol on the Unesco list would not imply Cambodia's full ownership of the dance tradition.

"The [two] dances are not exactly the same, after all," Prayut told reporters after the Cabinet meeting, "Ours is elaborate and beautiful, but I'm not comparing one to another. They both share the same root."

The Thai government, however, is not "really interested" in which country "owns" the dance and instead focuses on intellectual property issues, the premier said.

Prayut also refused to comment on the possible expansion of online nationalist sentiment reflected in Thailand's move to register the dance.

Don said both Thailand and Cambodia have their own right to propose different versions of the mask dances to Unecso. However, he added, Bangkok might be behind Phnom Penh in the process because Thailand is not a "state party" to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The Foreign Ministry is in the process of signing the convention, he said.

"But it does not mean we cannot perform the dance," he said. "Don't worry, this issue is not a big deal. Our relations [with Cambodia] remain the same and we support each other."

To prove relations are excellent, Cambodia's newly appointed foreign minister Prak Sokhon would visit Thailand in days, he said.

Thailand and Cambodia experienced heightened tensions in 2008 when Cambodia proposed to list the archaeologically significant Phreah Vihear Temple as a world heritage site. Nationalists in Thailand tried but failed to block that proposal and the dispute spiralled into military skirmishes on the border that caused many casualties.

In recent days, Thai academics have posted on social media warning nationalist compatriots that the mask dance is widely performed in many countries across Southeast Asia, while no specific country can claim exclusive ownership or copyright.

Source: The Nation

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