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Gov’t says ‘nyet’ to fest

People sleep on the beach in the Ukraine at the annual kaZantip youth musical festival
People sleep on the beach in the Ukraine at the annual kaZantip youth musical festival in 2003. AFP

Gov’t says ‘nyet’ to fest

Still eager after recent events to shield Cambodian culture from indecency, government officials yesterday said they had become increasingly wary of the imminent kaZantip music festival in Sihanoukville, with high-ranking tourism officials reporting that the event had already been cancelled.

KaZantip, which was scheduled to take place on Koh Puos from February 18 through the 28, was shut down before it began, due to a reputation for “indecency” and a “naked dance”, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said in an interview yesterday.

Controversy about Cambodia hosting the festival apparently began when Khon saw video clips of revellers dancing half-naked to music.

“Cambodia does not have a policy to encourage indecent cultures; tourism in the country is [to promote] culture and nature,” Khon said. “We do not support the naked dance, because it affects the national culture, the concert cannot be held; we do not permit [it].”

Khon’s remarks came on the heels of a series of other “indecent” acts that sparked outrage among both government officials and the general public alike.

Three French nationals were deported on Sunday for taking nude photos of each other at Banteay Kdei temple in Siem Reap, just days after a furore erupted over photos of a topless woman apparently taken at the same site. And earlier last month, a trio of foreigners were arrested and deported over a video showing a couple riding a motorbike naked through Kandal province.

Kazantip Asia (the organiser’s name uses a lowercase Z rather than the festival’s uppercase Z) deputy director Artem Kharchenko was unaware of the decision yesterday. All necessary permits had been granted by the government and police, Kharchenko said, and after the festival, his company had planned on hosting other international events in Cambodia.

“A lot of people think that we are just a music festival with lots of drunken people,” Kharchenko said. “This year, we want to bring a movie festival in kaZantip; it’s not only about party, it’s about tourism, ecotourism and, of course, music.”

The annual kaZantip festival began attracting electronic music fans in 1992. Until 2013, the epic party was held on the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine. But safety concerns surrounding military battles in the area forced it to relocate to Georgia last year.

Kharchenko yesterday said event organisers are currently setting up Koh Puos island for the festivities.

But Provincial Governor Chhit Sokhon said that after a meeting with his officials yesterday, he wrote two letters, one to Kazantip Asia and another to Khon, the tourism minister.

The letters specifically ban the festival from taking place in the Kingdom, Sokhon said in an interview.

“The first letter was sent to the company telling them to stop their festival immediately, because it affects our culture; the second letter was sent to the minister of tourism to ask for recommendations,” Sokhon said. “I have talked over the phone with the minister already, and said that it must be cancelled. It’s a big festival, so I’m expecting an official letter to cancel it from Ministry of Tourism.”

While he had not heard anything official, Sihanoukville Tourism Association head Douglas McColl yesterday said he heard rumours of kaZantip’s demise. Local authorities seemed anxious about the upcoming festival in the past few weeks, he said.

Cancelling the event at the last minute could severely affect hotels and guesthouses in the area, many of which likely booked a large number of guests, he added.

But Kharchenko remained calm yesterday. The kaZantip team believes that because they are new to the country, there could be some hesitance, but that people will see the festival as a celebration of art and culture.

“I do not understand why they would not support it, because we want to bring more tourists into Cambodia,” Kharchenko said.

But Sokhon yesterday warned that ignoring the order will not be tolerated.

“They don’t want to ask permission from us because it’s held on a private island, but we will take action if they don’t listen,” Sokhon said.

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