Hundreds of villagers living on Siem Reap’s historic Phnom Kulen are reeling after the government announced they would be relocated as part of a scheme to secure a UNESCO World Heritage Listing for the site.
Poung Lyna, the head of the Siem Reap environment department, yesterday confirmed the news villagers received over the weekend. “About 300 families, most of which are army and newcomers’ families who live near the Preah Ang Thom area on Kulen Mountain, will be relocated to a new place soon as their presence is affecting the environment of the national park,” Lyna said.
However, he added that those who had “lived there a long time” – upwards of 20 years – would not be moved. But uncertainty shrouds the ministry’s plans, with Lyna admitting he did not know when the villagers would be moved, or to where. However, he claimed it would be near their former homes.
“They will maybe be moved to the foot of the mountain, and we might give them a piece of land larger than what they currently have,” he said, making no mention of monetary compensation. “We will move their houses, but we will keep their businesses on the mountain untouched.”
Lyna added that tourism amenities such as food stalls on the mountain would also be upgraded as part of the plan.
The impetus for the plan was a recent request, made by the Environment Ministry to the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC-Angkor), to develop a master plan for the management of the national park site in a bid to put it on the World Heritage List – a task that would require limiting the number of villagers, Lyna said.
Resident Chhin Vanny, 43, who has lived at the site since 2000, said the distance from his current home to the foot of the mountain was about 20 kilometres. “I will not go anywhere. I just want to live here,” Vanny said.
“We are very upset as we did not cut down the trees, we did not make any problems for the park; we just lived there with nature to sell some souvenirs to tourists.”
But one resident, 53-year-old Khev Kheng, who has lived there for a decade, said he would reluctantly relocate if it would benefit the park.
“I have lived here a long time already, so I do not want to leave. But if they really need me to move, I hope the new location will not make it difficult to live,” he said.