Cambodians expelled to ‘preserve’ Angkor Wat heritage | Arts and culture news

On a white canvas, Chan Vichet paints an image of the Hindu god Shiva, ignoring the clanking sound of Cambodian soldiers loading the ruins of their neighbor’s destroyed house onto a truck. .

The artist worked on the edge of the Angkor Wat temple complex for seven years, making a living selling jungle-inspired paintings and ancient ruins to tourists.

Now his house and gallery will be razed as the Cambodian government clears 10,000 families living in the vast UNESCO world heritage site, many of whom face Unsatisfied deportation.

Chan Vichet said: “Ever since I heard about the relocation plan, I have felt numb.

“I force myself to work to support my family, but I don’t have enough focus or creativity.”

Authorities have said they are taking action to protect the ruins by moving squatters whose informal settlements are destroying the local environment by producing trash and using it. excessive water resources.

After their home is demolished, Chan Vichet and his family will travel 25 kilometers (15 miles) to Run Ta Ek, a new community in old rice fields that is still a construction site.

Families were given a 20 x 30 meter plot of land, $350 in cash, 30 tin roof tiles and a welfare card, but they had to build their own houses.

Before the pandemic, more than two million foreign visitors came each year to explore the ruined temples of Angkor Wat, half swallowed by the jungle.

For a poor country, crowds of visitors eager to see the ruins of the 9th to 15th century Khmer Empire capital have brought welcome cash.

The tourist trade has created a microeconomy of stallholders, food and souvenir sellers, and beggars, and the local population has exploded from an estimated 20,000 in the early 1990s to around 20,000. 120,000 in 2013.

Now, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has said that the settlements lack the necessary infrastructure and sanitation, and with visitor numbers expected to grow as travel restrictions imposed With the pandemic over, the government aims to eradicate them within the next four months.

“Even so, they are here illegally, the government is doing a lot to support their livelihoods,” said Long Kosal, a spokesman for the Apsara National Authority, which manages the archaeological park. know.

“The area here cannot allow such disorganized settlement and there is poverty [sanitation].”

The government has acknowledged that some of the villages near the temples date back centuries and insist only recent illegal settlements have been targeted.

Apsara aims to regenerate the jungle by planting trees in places where there were once ramshackle huts without proper drainage, running water or in some cases electricity.

Like many others facing the end of his job selling to tourists, Chan Vichet fears he will face financial difficulties.

As diggers leveled the dirt on the hot, dusty soil of Run Ta Ek, Heav Vanak watched his grandson play in the dirt and worried that his four grown children would be jobless. .

“I don’t have enough money to buy materials to build a new house,” said the 51-year-old.

“We are powerless. How can we object?

Apsara stressed that the families are “very happy to move out,” and spokesman Long Kosal said construction of schools, hospitals, markets and temples is underway.

“This place is livable,” he said, adding that the new Siem Reap international airport will open soon.

In addition to serving as a mainstay of Cambodia’s tourism industry, Angkor Wat is so central to the country’s identity that its towers are prominently featured on the national flag.

Hun Sen, who has run the kingdom with an iron fist for nearly four decades, has warned opposition parties not to make the relocation an electoral issue when Cambodia holds national elections in July. .

“If not resolved, in the future our Angkor Wat will be withdrawn from the World Heritage site. [list]he said in September.

However, in a statement to AFP, UNESCO said that, although it raised concerns about urban development risks in 2008, it “never called for population displacement”. “.

Communities moving away from UNESCO sites have long been controversial, particularly in the cave cities of Petra in Jordan and Luxor in Egypt.

The agency’s guidance states that relocation should be done with the consent of the people concerned and that local communities should be the main beneficiaries of tourism from heritage sites.

But it’s not just Run Ta Ek newcomers who aren’t happy with the relocation.

Longtime residents complain that with plots of land allotted to newcomers, they don’t have enough land to support themselves.

“Before, rice was enough to eat, now it is not enough to raise chickens and ducks. I also have bank debt,” said Horn Ravuth, 41, a third-generation resident.


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