Aiming to increase security, pre-empt terrorism and preserve Angkor Wat’s structural integrity, the Ministry of Interior and the Apsara Authority have bulked up the heritage police force guarding the temples, a heritage police official said.
Siem Reap Provincial Heritage Police Chief Tan Chay said he recruited 250 additional police officers to guard temples in remote areas. Criminals have an easier time looting temples in less accessible Banteay Srei and Svay Leu districts. Currently, 278 heritage police guard the central Angkor temple complex.
The move comes as fears of severe acute respiratory syndrome have lifted and tourism has increased at Angkor.
“Offenders still want to destroy the ancient things,” Tan Chay said. “In order to protect these things, we have to increase the number of police officers.”
The 250 new officers took a monthlong course to learn how to spot suspicious visitors and to guard against terrorism. They began the job last week and are equipped with motorcycles and AK-47 rifles.
Due to the presence of malaria in areas surrounding remote attractions like Phnom Kulen, Kbal Spean and Boeng Mealea, local workers and farmers were recruited. Most have no previous law enforcement experience, Tan Chay said. They will receive normal police salaries plus an additional $10 per month from the Apsara Authority. They will be permitted to bring their wives and children to housing near the attractions, where they will be living, Tan Chay said.
“They will work 24 hours a day [in shifts] and won’t stop on Sundays or holidays,” he added. “With these forces, I think it is enough to protect tourists.”
Apsara Authority Deputy General Director Soeung Kong praised the increase in security, calling it a “preventative measure” as tourism increases. “There will be a lot of tourists coming to visit Siem Reap province,” he said Sunday.
The Angkor complex remains relatively safe. Although there are sometimes robberies, there are never murders there, he said.
The added security comes after a South Korean tourist was found dead Sept 17 with a 7-centimeter gash in her head in Siem Reap town’s river. No arrests have been made in the case.
“We don’t know what she died of and are still investigating it,” said Ou Em, Siem Reap bureau penal police chief. He said it did not appear that the woman had been sexually assaulted since she was clothed.
Police were still investigating the death on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)