S IEM REAP-A branch of Phnom Penh's French Cultural Centre opened in Siem Reap on Sept 17 with an exhibition of plans for future development of the town. It continues until Oct 10.
The plans are by a French group, Arte, who have just started work and will be here until May. They are working with the Cambodian government with funding from the Caisse Francaise de Developpement.
The team is led by Pierre Clement, a professor of architecture from Paris and a specialist in oriental cities. There is also an urban planner, a designer, a hydrologist, a landscape architect, an environmentalist, an ethnologist, a socio-economist and engineer. Studying the existing city, they are working on a master plan and will prepare a strategy for the next two years, the next five years, for the year 2005 and the year 2010 respectively.
Four neighborhoods of the town have been targetted: the administrative section, the old market, the left bank, and the south.
On display are initial drawings for new projects and photographs of potential restorations, including a dance school, archives, a museum, a marketplace, a temple and an airport. They were executed by eleven French students of Clement's from Paris's Ecole d'Architecture.
"The group, and the students, work closely with local authorities," explained Clement. "We have 14 Cambodian counterparts. It's a training program and we help financially."
Minister of State Van Molyvann attended the inauguration with the governor of Siem Reap province Tuon Chay.
Van Molyvann asked students Cyril Ros, 24, who is half Cambodian, and Penelope Pourriat, 22, to discuss their drawings of the dance school and Wat Bo, which is to be restored.
The Minister said that planners must avoid the kind of tourism projects that will destroy the site and the evironment.
"There are three aspects to consider," he stated.
"One - monuments, two -landscape, three - human environment. We must show tourism which is specific to our culture. It's integrated and not just artistic. It is cultural, historic, archeological and ethnological."
He hopes "educated visitors" will come to Siem Reap. "They should come to Angkor as if on a pilgrimage, with respect for the site and its religious character, the way Muslims respect Islam and the mosque, the way Christians respect the church," said Molyvann
He would like investors to think in terms of a six year investment. As well as constructing hotels, they should help to improve conditions for the 500,000 people who live in poverty. He wants to help artists and artisans who work with silk, silverware, dance and folklore. He would like to see Siem Reap develop a creative environment like that of Bali, with its theatre, batik, sculpture and woodcarving.
"The people are living history," he claimed. "Next to the temple of Banteay Kdei, near Sras Sang, people have lived for the past 1,000 years, with their customs, language, beliefs, wedding ceremonies, songs and shadow puppets."
Tuon Chay was enthusiastic about the plans, and reiterated the importance of careful planning.
"In three years time the area will have grown rapidly. We are afraid of pollution and too many motorcycles and cars."
The new Cultural Centre will offer French courses for adults and children, French teacher training, a library, a video library and French television. Christian Mas, Cultural Attache and Director of the centre, says that 200 students are already enrolled for October.
"We also hope to have musical evenings in the future," he added.