Gov’t Says Tickets Weaken Temple Unesco Bid

Warning that a private ticket sales arrangement could harm government efforts to list the 1,400-year-old Sambor Prei Kuk temple as a world heritage site, the Min­istry of Culture and Fine Arts last month insisted that Kompong Thom province scrap a deal to sell tickets to foreign tourists.

Provincial authorities should have consulted with the government before beginning the ticket scheme, as this jeopardizes funding and preservation efforts, and thus future world heritage status, according to the Culture Ministry.

“The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts thinks that this case has seriously affected the work of conservation and development,” Cult­ure Minister Him Chhem said in a Jan 20 letter to Kompong Thom governor Chhun Chhorn.

The decision to allow a private com­pany to sell tickets to foreign visitors “is a complicated obstacle in preparing a proposal to list this temple as world heritage as well as the effort to seek funds to restore that temple,” the letter said.

Ticket sales at the Angkor Archaeological Park, itself a World Heritage Site, are operated by the Sokha Hotel Group, and revenues are shared with the government and Apsara Authority.

Reached by telephone yesterday, Mr Chhorn said he had granted the temple’s ticket sales operation to businessman Tan Meng Chhes late last year. However, Mr Chhorn insisted that the decision to grant rights to a private company to sell tickets merely continued policies set by previous provincial governors.

“If discussion is needed, we will explain to him that we did not new­ly set it up. We just renewed the old agreement, said Mr Chhorn, referring to Mr Chhem.

Unesco representative Teruo Jinnai said through an assistant yesterday that the Culture Ministry should provide a framework for the use of preservation funds from ticket sales.

“Ideally, it is the government in­stitution organizing ticketing of the culture heritage site and the revenue should be used for the safeguarding and restoration of the site within the framework of the Mini­stry of Culture’s policies,” Kong Kongkea, the assistant, wrote in an e-mail.

Mr Meng Chhes, who runs the ticket operation, could not be reached yesterday while Mr Chhorn declined to provide details on the Dec 24 contract, instead referring questions to his deputy Uth Sam An, who refused to discuss the matter with a reporter.

Former Kompong Thom governor and chairman of the provincial council Nam Tum echoed Mr Chhorn’s claims but noted the decision was made without consultation with the provincial council.

“This just follows the previous pilot plan. The governor wishes to seek more income for the province which is why he did this without consulting with the council members or the ministry,” said Mr Tum.

Currently, the province charges foreign visitors $3 a person and makes between $200 and $300 a month off entry to the early 7th-century complex of more than 200 temples located about 30 km north of the provincial capital, according to Mr Tum.

The Ministry of Culture has ultimate control over the temple but it is not entirely clear how much power they have over ticket sales, according to Ruos Sam Ear, director of planning and development at the Ministry of Tourism.

“This temple is under control of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts but ticket sales are under a small group,” said Mr Sam Ear.

According to Tith Chantha, director-general of the Tourism Ministry, ticket sales rights are generally awarded by a government committee made up by local stakeholders and headed by the provincial governor.

Chuch Phoeurn, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture, said yesterday that the ministry did not oppose the decision outright but he insisted that such a move should be made after consultations with the ministry otherwise it could conflict with government policy.

We “just want the provincial governor to discuss with the ministry,” he said. “If he refuses to, that means he walks on the wrong track.”

(Additional reporting by Abby Seiff)


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