Authorities in Takeo province’s Samrong district have warned of legal action against the owners of heavy dump trucks and tractors who continue to excavate soil illegally or transport it in the vicinity of Prasat Sen Phouvang temple in Sla commune.
The authorities are concerned that this activity may be causing damage to the temples due to the size and weight of the vehicles.
This warning came following the impoundment of an excavator on January 3 for operating illegally near Prasat Sen Phouvang temple, which is a cultural heritage site with protected status and is off-limits to heavy machinery.
District governor Ket Mao said he received information on January 3 that local farmers had hired dump trucks and a tractor to excavate their rice field just 200m from the temple.
Mao sent a deputy governor and other officials to stop the activity, but the trucks managed to escape so they impounded the excavator.
“This is just a routine administrative measure by the district authorities to impound the excavator at the commune police station for three days as a warning before releasing it, but we won’t fine [the owner] this time because it is their first offence and it hasn’t affected the temple yet,” he said.
Sla commune chief Khim Hul said that on January 4 the commune and district authorities along with the provincial Department of Culture and Fine Arts attempted to educate the men operating the machinery.
Hul said they made it very clear that from January 4 onward, no machinery is permitted to operate within the Prasat Sen Phouvang cultural protection area because of the damage it could cause through the vibrations alone.
“If they do it again then we must take legal action. We as commune authorities would never issue a permission letter for them to transport soil there,” he said.
Hul said he was upset that the machinery owners had undertaken their activity without asking for permission.
“I heard about the farmers’’ plans to use machinery to make their rice field flat and I told the village authorities to keep an eye on them, but then they tried to do it secretly, on Saturday and Sunday,” he said.
Chhuon Nget, one of the machinery owners, acknowledged that he had excavated soil in the area.
“Earlier when I did a similar job I asked for permission, but for this location, I did not ask again. I don’t believe that moving the soil in the truck hurt the temple because it was on an old road used to transport agricultural crops by tractors,” he said.
He also said he did not know it is a national heritage site when villagers hired him to excavate the soil there.
According to Nget, he was hired to excavate 100 truck loads of soil but managed to complete only 80 truck loads when the authorities stopped him.
There were five dump trucks involved in the operation and each was owned by a different person, but only three of them transported any soil across the temple area.
Provincial culture department director Chet Pisoth said that after a thorough inspection he is assured that the temples have remained intact.
But driving dump trucks near them and operating an excavator on the temple grounds was reckless and irresponsible, he said emphatically.
“Any [big disturbance] near the temples can have bad impacts in the future. For example, their terraces can form small cracks that will grow until they collapse,” he said.