Prime Minister Hun Sen has recommended national and provincial level authorities keep Battambang town as a place of heritage and work to maintain the ancient houses and bridges that are found there.
His comments were made as part of several recommendations on Saturday as he attended the sixth river festival held from March 13-15 in Battambang Province.
Hun Sen said the authorities needed to prioritise the development of tourist destinations including at the Phnom Sampov Mountain.
The development of such areas, he said, should be done responsibly in order to retain their history as there were plans to apply for Unesco heritage status.
However, Hun Sen said the necessary infrastructure to support the development of tourism should also be built.
Baek Chan Airport should continue to be developed and construction of a road from Battambang to Siem Reap should be pursued to improve access to the area, he said.
He said a direct road between Battambang and Siem Reap would reduce travel time between the two by 70km, and that water and electricity services should be improved.
“We will look to build a road that will link Battambang and Siem Reap provinces. Such a road would greatly reduce travel time. Now, travelling between the provinces must go via Banteay Meanchey. A new road would be more direct, saving some 70km,” he said.
He said construction of the road may begin next year, pending further studies and funding. He encouraged the authorities to resolve any land issues that would hold back construction of the road and told them to keep Baek Chan Airport for future use.
“I have requested the provincial governor and [Minister of Interior] Sar Kheng to pay attention to managing land in this area. I told him to avoid high-rise constructions and anything that may affect future airport activity when it is developed,” he said.
He said he expects tourist demand will continue to grow and therefore the airport will be hugely significant in the future.
Deputy Battambang governor Soeun Bunrith said the recommendations showed the prime ministers positive long-term vision for the region.
He said “Baek Chan Airport spans some 6km to the east of Battambang town. “The airport could still allow aircraft to land and take off along the runway, but the infrastructure and the buildings surrounding it need to be improved,” he said.
Bunrith also said there were issues with residents who had built houses and made a living near airport land.
“The provincial [authorities] have formed a committee to determine the identities of those people and the land which they rely on for their livelihood. The committee was formed at the request of the Minister in charge of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA).
“That committee is led by myself and after the river festival has finished, I will accelerate the completion of the work,” he said.
Concerning the retention of the ancient buildings, he said there were some 800 of them in the region, and that the provincial administration had told the people to remove signboards and canvases that blocked views of the French colonial buildings.
He also warned people about making any additions to the buildings, as they should maintain their original architecture.
A Battambang-Siem Reap road had been proposed before. But there were design implications and it would, therefore, need to be re-evaluated, Bunrith said.