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A silk-cotton tree grows inside the Ta Prohm temple in Siem Reap
A silk-cotton tree grows inside the Ta Prohm temple in Siem Reap. APSARA says it intends to remove four trees that pose safety threats at the "Tomb Raider" temple. AFP

Temple trees to go: authority

Ta Prohm, the overgrown jungle temple of Tomb Raider fame, will lose four of its distinctive trees after government officials overseeing the Angkor park decided to remove them this week for safety reasons.

Three of the cotton-silk trees intertwined with the ruins are already dead and rotting on the inside, according to the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA).

Another, larger tree growing throughout one of the temple’s walls and careening sideways over the structure is only precariously held in place by a combination of gnarled roots, rope and scaffolding.

“We’ve tried for many years to prop it up … but when the wind is strong, it is very dangerous,” APSARA spokesperson Kerya Chau Sun said.

“We have to be very careful because if we cut the tree out, the wall will collapse; but if we rebuild the wall, the tree will die. It’s a difficult balance,” Chau Sun said.

Tasked with removing the trees, the provincial forestry department said preserving both the oversized trees and the 12th-century ruin has not always been possible. APSARA has previously removed two trees from Ta Prohm: One survived and the other died after being incorrectly cut, according to Tea Kimsoth, forestry department deputy director.

“To cut the big trees in the temple area we must cut step by step, starting at the top of the tree, not in the middle or at the base, especially with the large trees emerging over the tops of the temple,” he said.

Yesterday, a Buddhist ceremony was held for the trees, which will be taken out in pieces over the next few days, though the temple will remain open to visitors.

According to Chau Sun, the ancient trees at Angkor are considered part of the cultural landscape and are only removed if they are damaged or diseased, potentially hazardous, spoil the landscape or threaten the monument’s structural integrity.

“In this case, we have to cut before it becomes too dangerous and someone gets hurt,” she said.

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