EIGHT representatives of more than 3,000 families in Siem Reap province’s Angkor Thom district arrived in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, hoping to call on Prime Minister Hun Sen and the National Assembly to allow them to build new houses within the Angkor temple park.
Koeun Keup, 28, a village representative, said the Apsara Authority, which maintains and administers the ancient temples, has prevented seven villages in Angkor Thom district from constructing new houses.
“The Apsara Authority officials don’t allow us to build more houses in the villages, and they told us that if we want to ... build new houses, we should go and build outside our village,” he said.
He said that the affected villagers had collected thumbprints and planned to present them with a written request to Hun Sen to resolve their problems.
“We don’t need more land, but we just want to have the right to build new houses on our land,” he said.
Koeun Keup said that Apsara Authority officials visit the village every month and pull down any new buildings that have been put up.
Eng Pis, deputy chief of the district’s Samrong commune, said that villagers wanted to build new houses when young couples start new families and leave their parents’ homes.
Soeung Kong, deputy director general of the authority, said that the rules were in place in order to protect the integrity of the ruins. He added that an influx of residents could “severely impact the beauty” of the UNESCO World Heritage site.
“The Apsara Authority is not the decision maker, but just applying the 1994 laws governing the Angkor Wat temple site and the preservation of the World Heritage site, which relates to the protection of beauty around the temple,” he said.
He said that when the laws were passed, around 20,000 people lived in the area, but that a boom in land prices elsewhere since 2000 had created incentives for people to move there. Around 100,000 people now live in the vicinity of the temples, he said.