VANN Molyvann, the statesman who presides over the umbrella agency that protects
and runs Angkor, has dealt a possibly fatal blow to Malaysian and Ministry of Tourism
plans for a sound-and-light extravaganza at Cambodia's showpiece monument.
In an on-going debate over the historic site, the minister of state and vice-president
of Apsara's Administrative Council told international donors and organizations his
government has scrapped YTL Corporation's multi-million dollar blueprint to light
up Angkor Wat.
"We announced to the international community that the concept of a sound-and-light
show as proposed by YTL has not been accepted by the Royal Government," Molyvann
told the Post, after a recently convened session of the International Coordinating
Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC).
"Apsara rejects this concept of a sound-and-light show, and is asking YTL to
present plans for a project that will be acceptable to both Apsara and the International
Coordinating Committee. We have let YTL know that we don't wish to have this show
staged inside the enclosure of Angkor Wat, but are open to it being staged outside,"
Molyvann is convinced that the only way to avoid congestion and the corrosive effects
of tourism is for future nighttime entertainment at Angkor to be done over a wide
area and on a smaller, more manageable scale. His idea is to produce a drive-by show
where reduced numbers of tourists will be shown the ancient Khmer temples lit-up
At the ICC meeting that culminated in at least $1.3 million in financial and technical
aid being earmarked by France and Japan to boost Apsara's performance, Molyvann also
made it plain that, although he welcomes YTL investment in Angkor-Siem Reap, he will
block YTL's ambitions to win an outright hotel monopoly as part of its billion-dollar
"The Royal Government has given 560 hectares to Apsara that has been designated
as a hotel zone.
"YTL proposes to use this land and expand to 1,000 hectares through a 70-year
lease. This land was given by the Royal Government - not to YTL - but to Apsara by
Royal decree. YTL has no right to lease land which does not belong to them.
"We want to develop this zone ourselves and warmly invite YTL, or other hotel
groups, to build within the 560-hectare zone, because we want to avoid a monopoly."
Molyvann also praised the decision by two French chains - Novotel and Accord - to
redraft plans for the construction of hotels near Angkors Wat and Thom, Banteay Srei,
and Roulos, so that they will meet Apsara and ICC guidelines for development.
"The hoteliers who originally had intended to build inside Zone 2 have withdrawn
their applications for building licenses and now accept to build on other sites in
order to protect Zone 2," he said.
Molyvann's stance drew a cool response from the Ministry of Tourism (MOT). "The
Royal Government has not rejected YTL's project to build a sound-and-light-show at
Angkor," maintained an aide to the tourism minister. "As far as MOT is
concerned, YTL's billion-dollar investment in Angkor-Siem Reap is going ahead as
"If it's true that YTL's concept of a sound-and-light show has been rejected,
then... [Molyvann] will have to prove that in writing," he added.
One of the line ministries which requires Apsara approval on projects in Siem Reap-Angkor,
the MOT struck its own deal with YTL in late 1995.
The two prime ministers - nominally co-presidents of Apsa-ra's Administrative Council
- gave their blessings to the deal, and were present when Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth
signed on behalf of the Royal Government.
As for YTL, Chairman Francis Yeoh was unavailable for comment at press time, but
a Cambodian projects officer responded to questions by phone from Kuala Lumpur.
"I am aware of His Excellency Vann Molyvann's proposals, but have not seen any
formal letter being sent from his office to YTL," he said. "I cannot comment
The ICC meeting in Phnom Penh was billed as a "frank discussion" to take
stock of Apsara's performance, since it was set up by Royal decree in Feb 1995, and
to chart its future.
"The international community believes that we should go a little faster,"
said Ang Choulean, an aide to Molyvann.
The minister of state voiced his concern to donors that Apsara wouldn't be able to
absorb the soaring numbers of visitors to Angkor-Siem Reap - forecast to reach 400,000
per year by 2000 - unless more money and experts are sent.
The message was evidently not lost on Azedine Beschaousch, Unesco's special representative
"Unfortunately, Apsara has been stalled in its performance," he said. "Apsara
does not have enough money and does not have qualified personnel apart from its director-general
who is a trained architect."
"What is asked of Apsara?" he added. "Apsara is expected to have a
greater visibility in Angkor, greater efficiency in its performance, and above all
Beschaousch cautioned, however, against any fast-track approach to development. He
said this would have disastrous consequences on Angkor's archaeological wonders,
the Khmer culture and people. "As an archaeologist, what is even more important
than the safeguarding of Angkor to me is its future development. You cannot turn
a two-year old into a 20-year old in an instant."
In Molyvann's opinion, there is another danger if any development that spurns ICC
guidelines takes precedence over Apsara in Angkor.
"In 1997, Angkor's inscription on Unesco's World Heritage List will officially
take hold," he said.
"Angkor was inscribed in 1993 on condition that - within three years - we showed
that we were capable of managing it. If we do not rigorously stick to international
guidelines, we risk loosing that listing."