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UN Sec-Gen contender gets in a tizzy in Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT – A contender for the top UN job and current Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova may have got her facts wrong about world heritage properties, and a clarification by her office has made matters worse.

Addressing a press conference in Colombo at the end of a four-day visit to Sri Lanka, the former Bulgarian politician expressed concern over the state of disrepair of the Dambulla rock temple, which became a World Heritage site in 1991.

She went on to say that she had raised the issue with Sri Lanka’s Minister of Education and Culture Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.

She was specifically asked by a reporter if the Dambulla Temple risked being "kicked out" of the prestigious World Heritage List and were there any other sites delisted.

Without a straightforward ”yes” or ”no” about Dambulla, Bokova addressed the second question explaining that only two sites had been delisted since the list was compiled and said one of them was at the request of Oman.

What was most intriguing was a "clarification" issued by her office in response to "inaccurate reporting" a day later after she had left the island about her comments on the Dambulla temple. The purported "inaccuracy" was not pointed out nor did it say which media outlet/s were responsible.

"With regard to the media reporting on the state of conservation of the Dambulla temple, the Office of the Director-General reiterates that the Organization is engaged in a process of dialogue with national authorities on this matter, and that no reference was ever made to its delisting as a World Heritage Site," her office said.

However, the audio recording of the press conference clearly shows that the possibility of delisting was discussed with reporters. Bokova made it clear that she was holding the Sri Lankan state responsible as a party to an international convention on the protection and preservation of the Dambulla temple.

Bokova even raised a laugh from the press when she said she had not given thought to a site being reinstated after being delisted.

The conservation of the Dambulla temple has been a serious challenge to the government because the monk who claims ownership is refusing to cooperate with the authorities in taking care of the property.

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Regarding the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary of Oman, Bokova said it had been removed at the request of the Muscat government in 2011. But her own website  (http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/362) says something totally different.

According to the UNESCO website, the sanctuary in Oman was taken out in 2007, four years earlier than she had thought, and the decision of the World Heritage Committee was due to "unilateral action" by Oman to reduce the size of the sanctuary, and not as Bokova said – at the request of Oman.

One would expect Bokova to get her basic facts right, given she is a contender to replace UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. During the press conference, she denied her visit was to canvass support for her candidature for the top UN job.

According to her website, she was wrong on the timing of the second delisting too. She said Dressden in Germany was also removed in the same year as the Oman site in 2011, but the website says it happened in June 2009. (COLOMBO, August 19, 2016)

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