Authorities confirmed they plan to begin removing more than 500 homes and shops today that they say were built illegally inside Angkor Archaeological Park, while the chief of one of the affected villages said homeowners had no plans to leave.
“We will remove the illegal construction tomorrow, and we will not give any pardons anymore,” Long Kosal, spokesman for the Apsara Authority, the government body responsible for managing the park, said on Wednesday.
Mr. Kosal added that he did not know the specific order or timing of the removals scheduled for today.
Por Vannit, the provincial military police commander, confirmed that his unit would participate in today’s operation, though he also did not know specifics.
“I have received the order from the provincial governor to join the removal operation,” he said.
Military police were recruited for the operation earlier this month following reports that villagers were preparing bottles of gasoline to burn Apsara Authority vehicles.
Unesco country representative Anne Lemaistre has previously voiced support for the removal of the structures.
On Wednesday, she reaffirmed Unesco’s support, though she said she did not know the details of the plan.
Pheang Poeu, the chief of Rohal village in Nokor Thom commune, said he had not heard from authorities in recent days but knew that the start of removals had been set for today.
“I heard the committee will start to remove first in Kravan village, then continue to Srah Srang Khang Choeung and Srah Srang Khang Tbong villages,” Mr. Poeu said, adding that Rohal was to be the last.
The village chief said that villagers had been quiet in recent days, and although residents would not leave their homes, he was not aware of any protest plans.
Sin Vuthy, a resident of Rohal village who built one of the new structures, told reporters earlier this month he would protest “even if the authorities fatally shoot people with guns.” Mr. Vuthy could not be reached on Wednesday.
The Apsara Authority set an August 10 deadline for removal of the new constructions in a statement earlier this month and, following several previous delays due to resistance from villagers, has insisted that this deadline was firm.
Many of the new structures were erected in the months leading up to the June 4 commune elections, and villagers have claimed that authorities did not stop the construction out of fear of losing votes.
Sum Map, director of the Apsara Authority, acknowledged during a press conference last month that authorities had not stopped the construction in order to avoid violence and ensure a smooth election period.
The Apsara Authority confronted a similar problem in the lead-up to the 2013 national election, during which dozens of new structures sprang up in the park as villagers made similar claims of local authorities turning a blind eye to avoid losing votes.