Private firms have approached officials in Oddar Meanchey province seeking a deal to take control of the cremation site of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, provincial Governor Pich Sokhin said Wednesday.
The firms, which Pich Sokhin declined to name, have been offering to develop the site where Pol Pot was unceremoniously burned in 1998 in return for collecting entrance fees from tourists, he said.
However, he added that such a move cannot currently be made, as land ownership in the area in Anlong Veng district has not yet been adequately delineated.
“Many companies came to us but we can’t offer it to any company because we have not clearly mapped,” he said.
In a highly controversial move last year, the Choeung Ek “killing fields” outside Phnom Penh were signed over to JC Royal, a private Japanese company, which collects entrance fees at the site.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said Wednesday that historical sites should not be privatized but carefully preserved by the government instead.
“The people in that area have been preserving the Pol Pot site capably by themselves,” he said.
“These sites should be maintained by Cambodians, so that they do not loose their character,” he said, warning that tourism projects at the site could be tacky.
“They have to be very careful: sometimes the Ministry of Tourism has this idea of a package tour, with waterfalls and other Cambodian sites, that include trips to karaoke…this is not the nature of these places,” he said.
Officials said land-grabbing around the cremation site is threatening its future as a tourist destination. District residents and people from outside are snapping up the land because they have heard that the government plans to develop it, said Anlong Veng planning officer Long Von.
“The Ministry [of Tourism] wants to find out why the size of the land around Pol Pot’s cremation size is getting small—from seven hectares to only 0.7 hectares today,” Long Von said.
“The value of land is now similar to Siem Reap province. One meter is a few hundred dollars,” he said. “People are coming from everywhere to live in Anlong Veng.”
Pich Sokhin met with tourism and land management officials on Wednesday to determine how to reclaim land illegally claimed by villagers near the cremation site.
“We would like to inform people that this area is protected for a historical site illustrating the end of Pol Pot’s life,” Tourism Ministry Secretary of State Thong Khon said.
(Additional reporting by Erik Wasson)