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New Unesco envoy mends govt fences

New Unesco envoy mends govt fences

U NESCO's new Special Representative, Khamliène Nhouy-vanisvong, has ushered in a new era in the organization's relationship with the Royal Government.

"We are here to listen to what the government needs us to do and to translate their wishes into actions," he says. "We can give them the right information and correct directives. We have no opinion. Even if we are competent, the point is that we here to help them."

Disagreements with the government precipitated the departure of former representative, Richard Engelhardt, and Nhouyvanisvong arrived from Unesco's Paris headquarters on May 29 to replace him. His initial task was to heal the breach and to expand Unesco's program. "It was a diplomatic move," explains Nhouyvanisvong, who has worked with Unesco since 1961. "We needed a new momentum."

Friction with the Minister of State HE Vann Molyvann had almost resulted in the closure of Unesco's office in Cambodia. "We invited him [Molyvann] to Paris," says Nhouyvanisvong, who was then Acting Assistant Director-General for External Relations. "We want cooperation, we told him, not two parallel authorities. It was felt that the time had come to change leadership, change the programme, diversify activities."

Nhouyvanisvong's new role is enhanced by his being Laotian, a country historically cooperative with Cambodia. "Vann Molyvann loves my country. He was attached to the Ministry of Public Works and if he had not come back here, he would have retired to Laos. I am accepted."

With an MA in Education from Stanford, Nhouyvanisvong, 60, plans to develop Unesco's learning centers during his two years in office. "We have identified 63 subjects for education. We have to help the Minister of Education to manage, plan, collect data, do school mapping and collect statistics."

Illiteracy is the most important issue, he believes. "Sixty-four percent of the population is illiterate, and of that, 70 percent is female," he claims. He hopes to reform the higher education system, teach science and maths at secondary level, and create distance learning programs for rural communities. Unesco has three learning centers; at Battambang and Siem Reap, where handicrafts, such as silkweaving, dance and teacher training, are promoted. There is also a multipurpose centre at Udong.

Unesco is building a floating school on two boats on the Tonle Sap, one for handicrafts and one a mobile library, at a cost of $17,000 each. "We teach communities to take care of themselves. When our work is done, we will leave."

Another priority for Nhouyvanisvong is the nomination of the Tonle Sap as a World Heritage Site. "The Tonle Sap is the life of these people. We estimate that 10 species of fish have already disappeared during the past 15 years. We must help the government to protect it whether it is listed or not."

At the national level, Nhouyvanisvong is planning an authority, called Apsara, for the preservation of the Angkor monuments, by the end of the year. "It will take decisions on all activities. Angkor is not only a place to preserve and protect, but a place of worship. It is also a tourist place to regenerate the economy."

The government wants Siem Reap become an art city, removing the airport from its proximity to Angkor. There will be an Angkor Park Management System to cope with a million visitors a year. "We want to prevent tourists from climbing on fragile monuments," he says. Parking will be outside the site, with other facilities. A circuit around Angkor Thom will be negotiated via non-polluting transport, such as a minitrain. "We have to be pragmatic," he declares, "it has to be income-generating."

He hopes to launch an international campaign to save Angkor. Some $10 million has been pledged to Unesco by Japan, of which $3 million is available for 1994, with spending on Angkor a priority.

"But we need $15 million a year," he admits.

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