Authorities are preparing to displace an entire village close to the Preah Vihear temple as part of what they say are efforts to preserve the World Heritage Site and protect the lives of residents in case of future conflict with Thailand, officials and villagers said Sunday.
More than 460 families from Kor Muy village, located at the base of the mountain on which the temple stands, will be relocated in June to a site around 20 km away, Preah Vihear Provincial Governor Preap Tann said.
About 4,000 hectares of land is now being cleared of landmines to establish the new village, and each family will receive a plot of land measuring 50 by 100 meters, $500 in cash, timber for construction and 50 sheets of corrugated iron for roofing, he said.
“We do not want to see them injured or killed if a firefight should happen again at any time,” the governor said by telephone. “There is no security for them if they live within range of rockets like this, and we want them to live in the new place where authorities are preparing plots of land, a school, a market, a clinic…as a new village,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan added that Kor Muy village had to be moved because it was now situated inside a “Unesco conservation area.”
The Preah Vihear temple alone was listed as a World Heritage Site last year, but without a conservation buffer zone around the site because of the border dispute with Thailand.
Nevertheless, the government’s National Commission for Unesco has established such a zone in the form of concentric circles marking different protection areas that spread out from the temple over several kilometers, Mr Phay Siphan added. Inside the zone where Kor Muy is located, the government is planning a large tourism park with a museum, a parking lot to prevent vehicles from traveling near the temple site, and a traditional market in place of the one that was destroyed by fire in recent fighting with Thai troops.
The inhabitants of Kor Muy will be moved to Kantuot commune in Choam Ksan district, which is a couple of kilometers from Sra Em, a small, thriving town located around 15 km away from the temple mountain and where tourists can find guesthouses and restaurants, the same location to which close to 800 families were relocated last week under the same conditions. Those families had previously lived and worked at the destroyed temple market.
Kor Muy village chief Khlot Bunleng said he was still registering the names of families who will leave voluntarily, and that about 400 have already agreed. For the 60 or so other families, negotiations are ongoing, he said.
Poor villagers are usually willing to move and take the government’s generous compensation, but wealthier ones who own businesses such as guesthouses and restaurants in Kor Muy are hesitant to accept less than they already have, said Kek Sophal, 48, a resident of the village.
“I’m very sorry that authorities scheduled to move me,” Kek Sophal said by telephone.
“We don’t agree to leave our home in the village because we have real farmland, a house and a business. If we move our house to a new location, we will lose our money, and it will be hard to find a new job.”