On Christmas Eve, the Cambodian government transferred control of the abandoned church on Bokor Mountain to a Catholic community, with plans to renovate the dilapidated house of worship.
Sitting atop Bokor Mountain in Preah Monivong National Park, the church is part of a cluster of abandoned French colonial buildings from the 1920s that includes a casino also undergoing renovations. The French abandoned the area in the 1940s, and in the 1990s it become one of the last holdouts of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime.
“During the Khmer Rouge, this church was not used properly based on Christian practices. Now we transfer it to the Christian community,” said Sao Sopheap, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment.
Sopheap added that the Catholic association would be responsible for the renovations.
Ly Sovanna, executive director of Catholic Nations Office for Social Communication (CSC) in Cambodia, said his organisation was given custodianship simply because they requested it.
“The government paid attention to our request,” he said, noting that it took the ministry a few years to respond.
Sovanna noted that the ministry still has final authority over the church, because it is within a national park. CSC will be given specific property boundaries defined by the ministry.
“This is just the agreement to transfer [control] . . . There are many following stages, a few years for the renovation, but we will set boundaries by 2018 at the latest . . . we will maintain its originality because it is history,” Sovanna continued.
He said he did not know the budget yet, but CSC would appeal for aid from Italy, France and charitable institutions.
Meanwhile, tycoon Sok Kong said he was almost finished renovating the old French casino on Bokor Mountain, and would reopen the building as a hotel this coming March.
“The former casino will now be opened as a hotel in March next year. We have been renovating for more than a year on this casino hotel. Now we have 36 rooms to offer services. We have not set the price yet,” Kong said, adding that it would be named “Le Royale Phnom Bokor”.
Dr Michel Tranet, a Cambodian cultural historian, said that it was a shame the church had been allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair.
“It is our cultural history; it defines what we experienced under French colonialism. In other countries, they don’t leave old things behind because it’s part of the national heritage. We need to recognise it as our national heritage,” he said.