The government body charged with managing the Angkor Archaeological Park on Monday started tearing down the first of more than 500 homes and shophouses illegally built within the park in the weeks before the June 4 commune elections.
Yorm Yat, the police chief of Siem Reap City’s Nokor Thom commune, said the authority had started to dismantle the first house and razed a shophouse.
Last week, the Apsara Authority, which runs the park, said 523 shops and homes were built in the area between May 20 and June 2 without permission. But Mr. Yat said he had counted more than 600 structures.
The police chief said about 100 people gathered around the first house on Monday morning to protest the demolition but were persuaded to disperse after the owner, Keo Vuthy, a local police officer, told them that he had agreed to abandon the site.
Mr. Yat said five other families had also signed contracts agreeing to either demolish their homes within three days or let the authorities do it for them.
“The Apsara Authority gave the families three days to remove their homes. If the families refuse, the Apsara Authority will go and remove the houses and it will not be responsible for the damage,” he said.
Mr. Vuthy said he had agreed to let the authority raze his cement home for fear of losing his government job if he refused.
“I am a police officer and I don’t dare to protest against their actions,” he said.
Sin Vuthy, a member of one of the five families who signed a contract on Monday, said the authority refused to take no for an answer. He faulted the government for not stopping them while they were moving in.
“I begged the Apsara Authority not to remove my home because we don’t have another house to stay in, but they did not agree,” he said.
An Apsara Authority spokesman could not be reached.
Ly Lay, director of the Interior Ministry’s heritage protection department, said the families had been told not to build.
“They promised not to continue building. But they kept building when our authorities were busy with other work.”