Apsara Authority Moves to Offices Far From Siem Reap City

Apsara Authority officials on Tuesday began moving to their new offices far outside of Siem Reap onto land within the Angkor Archaeological Park as part of a swap with the city’s provincial government, officials said.

The move comes after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered Siem Reap’s municipal and provincial officials to return to offices in the city center after having moved to rural Ampil commune in March 2010 as part of a highly controversial land swap deal orchestrated by Siem Reap’s former governor, Sou Phirin.

Provincial officials last week criticized the 2010 move for adding travel time to and from work, as well as costing them more in petrol and accused the former governor of personally enriching himself in the deal.

“I’m packing my work things to move out today to our new workplace,” said Soeung Kong, deputy director-general of the Apsara Authority, which manages the Angkor Archaeological Park.

In exchange for moving the provincial government apparatus and building the new offices in Ampil to house more than 1,000 civil servants, J&R Import, Export and Construction Company was awarded the old provincial government’s valuable buildings in the city center without going through a competitive bidding process.

The new office buildings were constructed on land inside the protected Archaeological Park. The historic park is divided by a zoning system, with Zone 1 containing sites of the most archaeological significance, while Zone 2 has archaeological remains “which need to be protected from damaging land use practices and inappropriate development,” according to the Apsara Authority.

Mr. Kong said the buildings in Ampil were in Zone 2, though he declined to say whether or not the provincial buildings hewed to specifications set by the Authority for structures within the Angkor Park zones.

“The 42-hectare plot of land is situated inside Zone 2 [of the Angkor Archaeological Park] which is state-owned land,” he said without elaborating.

But Mao Loa, director of the Apsara Authority’s Department of Conserving Monuments and Archaeology, said prior to the construction of more than 60 new office buildings in Ampil, her department did a dig to make sure there were no underground artifacts or structures of archaeological significance.

“For that construction, our technical experts went down to the construction area to make sure that the construction did not harm any underground heritage,” Ms. Loa said.

In any case, when the land swap was done in 2010, J&R gained ownership of prime real estate that has since been sold by the company, according to Lun Sothy, J&R’s director. The firm has declined to say how much profit it made from the sale or to whom the properties were sold.

According to Noun Rithy, CEO of Bonna Realty Group, the old locations of the provincial government apparatus would have sold for as much as $900 per square meter when the land swap was conducted. Today, the same land is selling for as much as $1,000 per square meter.

(Additional reporting by Dene-Hern Chen)

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