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NGO takes on Apsara Authority

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The disputed thatched-roof umbrella at MaD's Bakong Tea Garden.

It's been very draining…having 6 to 10 police invading our property whenever they feel like it."

Phil Starling, founder of Siem Reap NGO Making a Difference for Good (MaD), says his organisation has been forced to move by the Apsara Authority, a series of “threatening” visits by policemen and the withholding of permits by the authority.

Starling said because MaD was in an Apsara zone, his organisation was subject to “huge issues” with anything deemed “construction”.

“We have had several house building and compost toilet projects stopped,” he said.

The NGO has been headquartered in the Bakong district of Siem Reap province since 2007. Starling said projects for the benefit of local villagers had been on hold for two years. Resentment in Bakong was huge, he said, claiming the Authority had even prevented villagers from repairing damage to their homes caused by Typhoon Ketsana.

Apsara Authority director general Bun Narith said the claim was incorrect.

“We never ban people who have lived in the zone for a long time from fixing their homes,” Bun Narith said. He said Apsara had tightened restrictions on building or fixing new houses two to three years ago because NGOs were buying land in the protected area and bringing in Khmers from outside the zone to live there.

But Starling said the Bakong Technical College had been allowed to do work on a “massive” project in the Apsara zone, seemingly without any hindrance from the Authority.

Starling said the time spent applying and re-applying for permits, plus the constant random police visits had taken their toll.

“It’s been very draining and demanding on the whole family having six to ten police invading our property whenever they feel like it,” said Starling.

The fracas started over an application for a thatched roof to protect the Bakong Tea Garden café at the NGO.

Starling said following the applications, two onsite meetings, numerous renderings and GPS readings, Apsara officials said the roof would probably be approved within 30 days. But in October they blocked the construction.

Starling said MaD had then tried to get a mobile thatched umbrella set-up approved, but Apsara shut down that idea and forced them to destroy the umbrella.

Bun Narith said he can’t remember the specific case because they had received so many applications from NGOs. But he said Apsara always formally answered all applications.

“We’re just afraid the Angkor complex will become anarchy,” he said.

Starling said he was unsure where MaD would end up but that it was likely to be somewhere near Siem Reap, outside the Apsara zone.

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