As a teeming tourism industry steadily redefines the once sleepy
Siem Reap, efforts to manage the temples are increasingly interfering with daily
lives. To a growing minority, the panacea of steady growth looks more like a cure
worse than the disease.
E Ke, 59, lives near the military airport in Siem Reap province. He claims he is
not allowed to erect a new building on his land without paying a bribe to get permission
from the Apsara Authority.
Seung Kong, deputy director general for administraion of Apsara Authority.
Ke is among 50 families whose land lies inside an area designated as an historic
Angkor heritage site. The villagers are not allowed to build foundations for additional
stories and every new building has to be approved by the Apsara Authority (Authority
for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap). No one
has actually paid a bribe yet.
"I have been living here since Sangkum Reastr Niyum. I lived here through the
war, and have spent my life working and maintaining this house," Ke said. "Only
now does the Apsara Authority come here and want to control my land. Why?"
Ke and his neighbors flocked around Post staff members when interviewed on September
15, saying the law was good for the government and the rich, but not for the poor.
He said everyone in the country understood that to get permission from government
officials they needed to pay money.
"If we don't pay money to officials, we don't know how long we will have to
wait to get permission to build. We will have to live under the rain and the heat
of the sun," Ke said .
Chap Nhalyvud, Funcinpec governor of Siem Reap province, said the Apsara Authority
has had to implement the heritage law in order to achieve sustainable conservation
and to balance development of local housing with protection of historic sites.
He said developing the tourism industry was a government priority for reduction of
poverty and the Apsara Authority has done a lot of work for the protection and management
of historic sites.
One of the many dramatic approach paths to a restored temple in the Angkor area, surrounded by vegetation regrowth. To the local farmers it is another grazing area.
"I believe that people should understand about the management of historic sites,"
Dougald O'Reilly, director of Heritage Watch in Phnom Penh, said the law was a good
idea, but it must be applied to all people equally.
Seung Kong, deputy director general for administration of Apsara, said individual
villagers still owned their land, but adding foundations to support an extra story
was not allowed in the historic site areas. He said the Apsara Authority was responsible
for the protection and management of about 400 square kilometers, including about
20 villages in the Angkor conservation area where future home construction will need
the authority's permission.
In all, he said an estimated 200 buildings in the protected areas were facing removal
or demolition, and the Apsara Authority was looking for land to exchange for the
He said the increasing numbers of squatters in the parks of Angkor as the tourism
boom continued was a hot issue for the authority to resolve.
Squatters increased from 10,000 families to 90,000 families between 2000 and 2004.
Kong said the government target was to have 3 million tourist arrivals per year by
He said the Apsara Authority has cooperated with the international community since
1992 in efforts to rescue the ancient temples from decline after more than two decades
of civil war in Cambodia.
He said the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) meets in June and December
of each year to consider ongoing restoration, conservation, research and development
projects in the Siem Reap/Angkor region.
Kong said different temples were restored and conserved by experts in archaeology
from the USA, France, Japan, China, German, India, Italy and Switzerland, and include
organisations such as German Apsara Conservation Project (GACP), Japanese Government
Team for Safeguarding Angkor (JSA), the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient (EFEO),
the Sophia University Angkor International Mission (Japan), and the World Monuments
Fund Program (WMF).
He estimated donors had invested about $20 million in temple restoration and conservations
"At the moment, everybody is working closely together and it has taken 10 years
to achieve that," said John Sanday, field director of the WMF.
The WMF sent its first team to Angkor in 1989. An important component of the WMF
program is on-site training of Cambodian architecture and archaeology students from
the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh.
"Our responsibility is one of the handing over to future generations; we want
to try and stop future deterioration, future collapse," said Sanday.
However, Kong said Cambodia itself was still lacking human resources in archaeology.
"I think that in just ten years the international communities have succeeded
in rescuing the ancient temples from danger of collapse," he said.
However, he confessed he has bad dreams about the temples collapsing because of underground
He said the increase in building construction - homes, hotels, guesthouses and other
commercial-use structures - was occurring without proper consideration of drainage,
and silting up of rivers from increased soil runoff could cause more flooding in
Kong said that from a series of accumulative floods, old wells had absorbed water
flowing across the base of the temples and experts were concerned this could weaken
Due to the lack of a reticulated local water supply, all the hotels in Siem Reap
used water from wells to supply their customers.
"We don't know what is happening underground, or what effect increased well
draw off could have," Kong said.
Thai Khin, who used to work with WMF in Siem Reap, said he agreed that the base of
the temples could move if it absorbed water.