Close to 800 families who used to live around the Preah Vihear temple received land, cash and construction materials to establish a new village 10 km from the World Heritage site, officials said Tuesday.
The market at the foot of the temple staircase was burnt to the ground in fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops on April 3, and the government had announced it was a priority to relocate the vendors.
“Each family receives 2 million riel [about $500], 50 metal roofing sheets and wood to build their houses,” as well as a plot of land of 50 by 100 meters, Council of Ministers deputy spokesman Dem Sovannarom said by telephone from Tuesday’s donation ceremony in Preah Vihear province.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguards, whose commander, Hing Bunheang, was presiding over the ceremony, will help villagers construct their houses, he added.
“The team…is starting construction work from right now, from today,” he said.
The new village of Sra Em, in Kantuot commune, Choam Ksan district, will be home to 792 families, said Preah Vihear Deputy Governor Sar Thavy, also speaking at the ceremony. Of those families, 319 were vendors at the temple market, and 473 were living in other areas on the hill where the temple stands. It is planned for the village to eventually grow into a town, he added.
The deputy governor said the land was good for growing fruit trees. However, the village will eventually thrive on tourism, Mr Dem Sovannarom said.
Villagers were given three models of typical Khmer architecture on which they could base their house, so the village will be attractive to visitors, he said. Sra Em will eventually be part of a tourism complex surrounding the temple, with a museum and carpark set away from the temple, where motor vehicles will no longer be allowed, he said.
Villagers could transport tourists in ox or horse carts and will be able to resume their trade following the construction of a new market that follows Unesco recommendations, he added. The former market, where vendors worked and lived without proper sanitation, had been a concern for the integrity of the heritage site.
The generosity and promptness of the relocation offer—less than a month after villagers lost their homes—stands in contrast with numerous festering cases of evictions, where many have complained compensation was too low and relocation sites inappropriate. Mr Dem Sovannarom argued, however, that the situation was different because the Preah Vihear villagers had been displaced by conflict.
“These residents have long lived at the foot of the temple. They remained on our territory, and they defend our national heritage, which has become world heritage,” he said. “The government owes these residents this service.”