Cambodia’s Apsara National Authority, which manages Angkor Archaeological Park, will this week unveil a “revolutionary” new concept for Angkor’s management that will vastly decentralize responsibility for the preservation of the temple complex, according to Anne Lemaistre, Unesco representative in Cambodia.
The new Angkor Heritage Management Framework, which has been two years in the making, will involve restructuring the management of the 401-square-km park so that each major monument and group of smaller monuments has one person serving as its director, who will be in charge of its every aspect, from conservation and tourist flow to security and forestry, she said.
This will entail setting up a team of qualified Cambodian “curators” with broad knowledge of conservation and management, who will work closely with Apsara’s specialized teams to address emergencies.
Developed by the Apsara Authority and the Australian heritage consultancy firm Godden Mackay Logan, and assisted by Unesco experts through support from the Australian government, the new management plan will be unveiled during a series of international meetings in Siem Reap this week.
On Thursday, representatives of more than 30 countries and international organizations will attend the 3rd Intergovernmental Conference on Angkor. It will be presided over by French
Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti and Japanese Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Yasumasa Nagamine, with Prime Minister Hun Sen opening the meeting.
Its goal is to set priorities for the preservation and management of the Angkor Archaeological Park over the next 10 years. The park is not only a World Heritage Site, but is also the country’s biggest tourist draw, with the number of visitors to the park expected to exceed 4 million this year.
“The archaeological site is facing numerous challenges: how to balance [the needs of] local communities and visitors, to preserve the environmental setting, and even to master the use of new technologies to conduct research,” said French Embassy spokesman Nicolas Baudoin.
The site’s situation has changed tremendously since the first intergovernmental conference on Angkor in Tokyo in 1993 when the monuments were in such a state of deterioration after decades of conflict that the site had been put on the U.N.’s List of World Heritage in Danger.
To coordinate the rescue efforts, countries agreed to create the International Coordinating Committee of Angkor (ICC), an organization whose formula has proven so effective that the ICC has become a model for World Heritage sites throughout the world. Angkor’s ICC will hold its technical meeting Tuesday and its plenary session Wednesday ahead of the intergovernmental conference.
“A lot of achievements were made over the last 20 years,” said Japanese Embassy spokesman Yoshihiro Abe. “Removal of the Angkor site from the…List of World Heritage in Danger in 2004 is one of the greatest accomplishments.”
By the second intergovernmental conference in 2003, the challenges had shifted away from emergency intervention toward the concept of sustainable development, as the ICC had to learn to deal with throngs of visitors they had not anticipated.
Ten years later, the new, decentralized management plan reflects the progress that has been made at Angkor over the past 20 years, as the Apsara Authority is now poised to set up a permanent structure to manage both monument conservation and tourism.
“We have achieved…monument preservation. Now we must assure this on a permanent basis, and especially manage tourism,” said Apsara spokesperson Chau Sun Kerya.
Other management strategies to be discussed this week will include introducing a system of risk maps to monitor everything from water flow to stone conservation and tourist traffic; the need for an Apsara Geographic Information System team capable of interpreting data in geographical as well as conservation terms; and radar technology provided by China to locate and monitor underground archaeological features as well as water flow.
One issue that may be addressed formally or informally will be the relationship between the ICC and Siem Reap provincial authorities. A decision made at the 2003 conference had been that the provincial authorities would involve the ICC and Apsara Authority in urban development issues that affected Angkor park.
Although there has been informal consultation between provincial authorities and Apsara, this decision has yet to be officially implemented. In the meantime, some buildings that are not meant to be there, including houses, have appeared in the Angkor park’s protected heritage zone.