The National Assembly’s Seventh Commission, which oversees tourism and culture, summoned four government ministers to answer questions yesterday regarding the development and future of Kampot province’s Bokor Mountain.
The commission, helmed by opposition lawmaker Yem Ponhearith, questioned the ministers of tourism, education, culture and religion for three hours, while stressing a need for collaboration to protect Cambodian heritage and rejuvenate tourism on the mountain, once a playground for foreigners during the colonial period. The mountain is currently home to a casino resort owned by Sokha Property, backed by real estate tycoon Sok Kong.
The meeting comes shortly after Ponhearith – whose party has long been sensitive to alleged Vietnamese encroachment into Cambodia – made a fact-finding mission to the mountain intended to investigate what he characterised as undue Vietnamese cultural influence over the site.
Minister of Culture Phoeurng Sakona addressed the matter of ancient grave sites on the mountain thought by the opposition to be drawing Vietnamese tourists, proposing research into the sites to determine by whom they were left.
“For this second, we cannot say whose the graves are, and we also cannot say what measures will be taken either, because we have to check the law,” Sakona said. “Normally, graves cannot be touched.”
While Ponhearith has been outspoken about his fears regarding Vietnamese influence, he seemed to accept Sakona’s answer, at least for the time being, saying he would “examine the rights and freedom of religious groups through legal measures later”.
Meanwhile, the other ministers summonsed offered their own suggestions for driving tourism to the site, with Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron suggesting further study of the mountain and publication of educational literature.
Minister of Cults and Religion Min Minh described a plan to build a Chinese temple at the foot of the casino to compliment existing religious sites.
For his part, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon noted the need to preserve the religious integrity of the site, proposing the elimination of indecent sunbathing in areas frequented by tourists.