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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rescue excavations save artifacts from the bulldozer

Rescue excavations save artifacts from the bulldozer

Rescue excavations save artifacts from the bulldozer

SIEM REAP - An expected rise in tourism after election-related squabbling settles

down has long-dormant bulldozers fired up to begin work on stalled development projects

near Angkor.

All the construction so close to the temples is a worrying sight to those trying

to preserve Cambodia's ancient cultural heritage, so the Authority for the Protection

and Management of the Angkor Region, know by its French acronym APSARA, has initiated

rescue excavations at development projects to ensure buried structures and centuries-old

artifacts are not destroyed in the process.

Drawing on legislation passed by the National Assembly in 1995 that calls for any

development areas around Angkor to be checked for ruins before groundbreaking, APSARA

obtained permission from the government to work with the French Institute for Far

Eastern Studies (EFEO) to do preventative surveys in several areas.

Siem Reap Airport - where there are plans to enlarge the terminal, add additional

buildings and construct an access road around the complex - was the first site to

be surveyed in July and August, according to Marc Franiatte, an archeologist from

the French Archeological Mission in Cambodia.

"Before they started the dirty work they wanted us to perform a preventative

survey to ensure there were no ruins," Franiatte said at EFEO's Siem Reap office.

"We have to act quickly to intervene in a very short time because behind us

are economic interests."

The northwest side of the airstrip contains a high concentration of "out of

place artifacts" - mostly shards of pottery and laterite blocks - that will

require a detailed excavation of the area before work begins on the airport early

next year, he said.

Very few artifacts have been found where the new buildings will be constructed and

no major monumental structures are suspected to be buried underneath.

Still a survey team led by an archeologist will be on site for the groundbreaking

as a precaution.

"If they find anything important the contract states that they must stop work

to determine if there are minor or major remains," Franiatte said. "But

it is very improbable to find these sorts of remains in the terminal area."

Another site has been targeted for a preventative survey, but Franiatte was reluctant

to disclose its location, fearing problems from both developers who may use political

cronies to halt any excavation attempt, and looters who may get to the sites before

the archeologists and take anything of historical value.

"The Cambodian authorities have told us that we must intervene at this certain

place for a certain reason," Franiatte said. "There are already so many

partially looted and partially destroyed sites. We must act quickly... If it is known

where a new archeological place is, they could get there before us and dig."

Seung Kong, deputy director general of APSARA, said the site of a luxury hotel near

the airport has been scheduled for a survey, as well as areas near Angkor Thom and

Phnom Bok.

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