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Preah Vihear villagers reject offer

People sit along ruins at Preah Vihear temple last year
People sit along ruins at Preah Vihear temple last year. The provincial government is planning the relocation of residents to make way for cultural preservation around the temple complex. Scott Howes

Preah Vihear villagers reject offer

The provincial government in Preah Vihear is pushing ahead with a compensation and housing scheme for villagers whose existing homes are in the way of a cultural preservation area near the province’s famous 11th-century temple.

But the villagers are reluctant to accept the package, saying the new location – which is partially inhabited by residents who agreed to be relocated in 2009 – is underdeveloped.

Chuch Phoeun, chairman of the national Preah Vihear temple authority, said that because the site was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2008, the government was obliged to preserve the historic grounds, which meant clearing them of inhabitants.

“It is the government’s obligation to develop the area around Preah Vihear to promote … conservation.”

According to a statement from the provincial authorities, the affected families will be relocated to the Samdech Techo Eco-Village, about 10 kilometres from their homes in Sra Em commune. They will receive a new house, building materials, plots of farmland and cash compensation.

The offer, however, was not suitable for 253 remaining families, according to villager Chan Sophea, 43.

“Those new villages are mined areas and are wild [with] no infrastructure. We still do not accept this,” Sophea said, reiterating the position from 2011 when the same plans were put forward.

Yon Sokun, 34, said the homes of the families were not in the way of the government’s plans like those of the previous residents who moved in 2009, and that the authority “cheats us to force us to move”.

Om Mara, Preah Vihear’s governor, said that infrastructure, such as a pagoda, streets, a school and a health centre, was waiting for the families.

“All villagers, both in Svay Chrom village and Ko Muoy [area], are in the development area,” Mara said.

Residents from Ko Muoy were relocated in 2009, but these families are holding out.

“The villagers in Ko Muoy agreed to move but only 253 families in the Svay Chrom village in Sra Em commune still do not agree to move,” he said.

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