SIEM REAP - An expected rise in tourism after election-related squabbling settles
down has long-dormant bulldozers fired up to begin work on stalled development projects
All the construction so close to the temples is a worrying sight to those trying
to preserve Cambodia's ancient cultural heritage, so the Authority for the Protection
and Management of the Angkor Region, know by its French acronym APSARA, has initiated
rescue excavations at development projects to ensure buried structures and centuries-old
artifacts are not destroyed in the process.
Drawing on legislation passed by the National Assembly in 1995 that calls for any
development areas around Angkor to be checked for ruins before groundbreaking, APSARA
obtained permission from the government to work with the French Institute for Far
Eastern Studies (EFEO) to do preventative surveys in several areas.
Siem Reap Airport - where there are plans to enlarge the terminal, add additional
buildings and construct an access road around the complex - was the first site to
be surveyed in July and August, according to Marc Franiatte, an archeologist from
the French Archeological Mission in Cambodia.
"Before they started the dirty work they wanted us to perform a preventative
survey to ensure there were no ruins," Franiatte said at EFEO's Siem Reap office.
"We have to act quickly to intervene in a very short time because behind us
are economic interests."
The northwest side of the airstrip contains a high concentration of "out of
place artifacts" - mostly shards of pottery and laterite blocks - that will
require a detailed excavation of the area before work begins on the airport early
next year, he said.
Very few artifacts have been found where the new buildings will be constructed and
no major monumental structures are suspected to be buried underneath.
Still a survey team led by an archeologist will be on site for the groundbreaking
as a precaution.
"If they find anything important the contract states that they must stop work
to determine if there are minor or major remains," Franiatte said. "But
it is very improbable to find these sorts of remains in the terminal area."
Another site has been targeted for a preventative survey, but Franiatte was reluctant
to disclose its location, fearing problems from both developers who may use political
cronies to halt any excavation attempt, and looters who may get to the sites before
the archeologists and take anything of historical value.
"The Cambodian authorities have told us that we must intervene at this certain
place for a certain reason," Franiatte said. "There are already so many
partially looted and partially destroyed sites. We must act quickly... If it is known
where a new archeological place is, they could get there before us and dig."
Seung Kong, deputy director general of APSARA, said the site of a luxury hotel near
the airport has been scheduled for a survey, as well as areas near Angkor Thom and