Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia, stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area. The Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century, comprising the famous Hindu-Buddhist Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. The complex makes up the largest religious monument by land area in the world.
Because the site is a famous tourist attraction, having welcomed over 2 million visitors in 2019, many locals have set up small businesses on the premises, selling souvenirs, paintings or food, living there at the same time. But the government is now evicting as many as 10,000 families, some having lived there for generations, arguing the move is needed to protect the area from deterioration.
Moreover, authorities have suggested that locals live in unsanitary conditions due to the lack of basic amenities like running water, electricity or sewage. “Despite that they are here illegally, the government is doing a lot of things to support their livelihoods”, Long Kosal, a spokesman for the Apsara National Authority, which manages the archaeological park, told AFP. “The area here cannot allow such unorganised settlement and there is very poor (sanitation).”
If we don’t resolve this, in the future our Angkor Wat will be withdrawn from the world heritage (list).Hun Sen, Cambodia Prime Minister
UNESCO has indeed warned in the past that the site could lose its world heritage status due to urban development, however, in a statement for AFP, the organisation stressed that, while it had concerns about the site’s conservation in 2008, it “never called for population displacements” and that local communities should be the primary beneficiaries of tourism from heritage sites.
If they agree to move, families are offered a 20×30 plot of land in the Run Ta Ek village, about 25 kilometres away from Angkor Wat, $350 cash, 30 pieces of tin roofing material and access to a welfare card. Those who refuse, on the other hand, are removed from the premises by force without receiving any compensation. Moreover, once they arrive to the new location, they have to build their own houses. Residents have reported that not only are the costs of rebuilding their homes too high, the offered compensation not being nearly enough, but many of them are not in a physical condition to do so.
For most of the local community, this move, too far away from any tourist routes, means they will no longer be able to make a living and provide for their families. The villagers that already lived in Run Ta Ek are also affected, the farmland they relied on for income being given to the evicted families.