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Sokimex and Government revisit Angkor deal

Sokimex and Government revisit Angkor deal

THE Cambodian Government has hammered out a new agreement with private company Sokimex

over the ticket sales to the famed Angkor temples near Siem Reap.

The agreement, reached at an interministerial meeting on Aug 15, may bring higher

revenue to the Government. A Government official says Sokimex agreed to hand over

50 percent of its income if ticket sales to the Angkor park are lower than $3 million,

and 70 percent if sales exceed $3 million.

Currently Sokimex pays the Government a flat fee of $1 million a year and keeps all

revenue from ticket sales.

However, some elements of the final agreement have not yet been agreed on. For instance,

Sokimex wants to set a fixed price of $20 a day for entry to the temples and abolish

the special rate for three and five day passes. The price of three days of entry

to the temples would thus increase from $40 to $60 and five days from $60 to $100.

Opposing this is the Minister of Tourism, Veng Sereyvuth, who wants to cut the current

ticket prices by 50 percent.

"When tourists travel they have a whole range of choices," Sereyvuth said.

"There are many other magnificent heritage sites around the world. Cambodia

is already more expensive than other places, and that's where the problem comes.

Tourists may not choose Cambodia because of the extra expense. We shouldn't go for

higher prices, but for higher numbers of tourists and longer stays."

Sokimex was granted the concession to ticket sales to the sprawling 9th-to-15th century

temple complex, Cambodia's biggest tourism draw, last year. Under the deal signed

in April 1999 Sokimex was to pay the Government a flat fee of $1 million in return

for the ticket concession and could keep all revenue above that. The deal came after

years of lost revenue under Government management.

But last year ticket sales rose sharply, bringing in $3.8 million - more than double

the projected revenue. And in the first six months of this year 88,824 tourists visited

Siem Reap, whereas 28,525 visited in all of 1999, according to Sereyvuth.

"The figure is increasing," Sereyvuth said. "The income is increasing,

so the Government wants to have a look at it and wants to have a fair share of it."

The negotiations with Sokimex were headed by the Minister of the Council of Ministers,

Sok An.

The Angkor concession was controversial from the start, with critics accusing the

Government of privatizing Cambodia's national heritage with a sweetheart deal for

Sokimex, which is known to be close to the ruling CPP.

Soon after taking over the concession, Sokimex posted uniformed guards at each stone

temple to ask tourists for the entry card they received at the entrance gate. Earlier

this year Sokimex tightened its entry system by requiring visitors to have a photo

attached to a special indentification card, which they must keep with them at all

times. Hefty instant fines are levied on visitors without passes.

The tight measures have prompted complaints of police-state tactics from tour operators

and visitors.

Sereyvuth said he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sep 8 last year requesting

him to intervene in the matter.

"We don't want temple guards to ask the tourists to have a photo for entrance

to the temples."

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