Cambodian officials have rebuffed recent calls by Amnesty International for UNESCO to address allegations of “forced evictions” around the Angkor Archaeological Park, dismissing the claims as baseless.

Sum Map, spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, raised concerns about Amnesty’s lack of engagement with formal institutions on this matter.

Mab, who is also a member of the Orientation Committee for Illegal Construction Solutions around Angkor, said the calls were politically motivated.

“People were not forced to vacate the Angkor heritage site, but chose to relocate from the area on a voluntary basis. There were no forced evictions, not even in one instance,” he contended.

He also explained that those who relocated to Run Ta Ek eco-village and the Peak Sneng area have access to toilets, clean drinking water and infrastructure, and that the authorities have already established health centres, schools and pagodas for them.

Amnesty’s suggestion was made in a September 10 statement, released during UNESCO’s annual meeting, running from September 10 to 25 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Montse Ferrer, Amnesty’s interim deputy regional director for research, said the allegations of “mass forced evictions” should be addressed.

“The World Heritage Committee must not ignore the Cambodian government’s ongoing removal of a reported 10,000 families from around the Angkor Wat Temple. According to the preliminary findings of our latest research, that amounts to mass forced evictions in the name of conservation,” he said.

Ferrer claimed that the new sites lack housing and sanitation facilities, requiring evicted families to build their own homes, in contrast to international human rights standards, which demand the provision of drinking water, housing and sanitation before relocation.

The NGO claimed to have conducted in-person interviews with over 100 people who have been evicted or face eviction, highlighting the severe impact on families who have lived at Angkor Wat for generations.

“Government officials asserted that the evictions targeted ‘illegal inhabitants’, as opposed to those residing in ‘traditional villages’, but our research could find no clarity regarding who had legally recognised rights to stay,” said Ferrer.

“Many people who are being forced to leave have told us their families have lived at Angkor for generations in what they believe are traditional villages,” he added.

The APSARA National Authority (ANA) recently received an interview request via video links from the human rights organisation concerning the relocations. Upon receiving the request, the ANA extended an open invitation for in-person rather than virtual discussions, so the organisation could see the actual situation on the ground.

Amnesty declined the ANA’s invitation to an in-person discussion, according to ANA.