HUNDREDS of families living at the bottom of the ridge on which Preah Vihear temple sits began moving last week to a government-provided relocation site some 30 kilometres away, and only about 100 remain, officials said Wednesday.
“Most people are leaving the old village, and have been settling in the new village since last week,” said Hang Soth, director of the Preah Vihear National Authority. “There are about 100 families still at that place.”
Plans for the move date back to July 2008, when fighting first broke out near Preah Vihear temple after its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Officials said at the time that the 473 families living in Kor Muoy village would need to be moved because of safety concerns, and because they wanted to develop the area as a “cultural heritage site”.
Hang Soth said Wednesday that he hoped all of the families would be cleared out of the village “very soon”.
“I hope that they will all leave here in May, so we can bulldoze it and clean it to plant trees, and to make a garden and restaurants for tourists,” he said.
Sok Hai, the governor of Choam Ksan district, said the process of building homes for the families at the new village – which has been christened Thamacheat Samdech Techo Village (Samdech Techo Nature Village), a name that incorporates part of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s honorific – was not yet completed.
“The house construction for the people is going very fast, and we never stop even for one minute because we need people to live in this place for development,” Sok Hai said.
He added that local officials had dispelled rumours that some of the families would not be allowed to relocate to the village, which is in his district.
In February, a group of 50 families claiming to be longtime residents of Kor Muoy said they had been left off the list of families eligible for relocation housing.
Government officials said at the time that they could not confirm why the families had been left off the list, but some Kor Muoy residents said they were convinced the move was a form of retaliation for their support of opposition political parties.
In a speech that month near the temple, Hun Sen dismissed speculation that some families would not be allowed to settle in Samdech Techo Nature village.
“Even if you did not vote for me, it is still my duty to resolve the problem for you, and I would like to confirm that in the long term the area around Preah Vihear will become a development site,” he said.
One Kor Muoy villager who has since relocated, and who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that many of the families had ultimately agreed to move because their requests for other forms for compensation – including separate plots of land and materials with which to build their own homes – had been rejected.
“Most people have left here because their demand is hopeless,” the villager said.