Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema has banned businesses and construction work within a half-kilometer radius of the Choeung Ek killing fields, according to a directive issued Sept 30 and obtained Monday.
The move is intended to “preserve the calmness and environment in the historical memorial left by the Pol Pot genocidal regime,” the directive stated. Chou Sok Ty, general manager of the Choeung Ek site, said business development in the area could mar people’s experiences of the memorial which was handed over earlier this year to Japanese firm JC Royal who was granted a 30-year contract to manage and develop the site.
“The directive will help to improve the site because we want it to look natural,” Chou Sok Ty said. “Choeung Ek is a place where people will cry when they visit. But if there’s construction, it will disturb tourists,” he said.
But Choeung Ek commune chief Sun Siv said the order was bad for the local community.
“We need development to improve our commune,” Sun Siv said, adding that business would not necessarily disturb visitors to the memorial.
“I don’t think there would be disruptions, because when experts do construction they study the effects first,” he said.
Villagers living adjacent to Choeung Ek recently voiced concerns that the planned expansion of the site’s access road and other development may displace local families.
Center for Social Development President Chea Vannath said the directive was a positive step as she had heard reports that a developer wanted to build an entertainment center close to Choeung Ek.
“If so, it would jeopardize the primary image of the killing fields,” she said. “It would be exploitation by business at the expense of history.”