Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the immediate reconstruction of the market that was burned to the ground at the base of the Preah Vihear temple stairway during Friday’s clash between Thai and Cambodian troops, government officials said Monday.
The details and timeline of the market’s reconstruction, however, were not available as government officials say they are continuing to discuss rebuilding efforts with Unesco experts.
“As the principle order from Samdech prime minister, the market needs to be rebuilt,” said Council of Ministers Undersecretary of State Suos Yara, who led a government team to survey the damage from the brief battle on Friday.
“His principle is that, [between] heritage and life, he prefers to choose life before heritage. So the protection of the people’s interest is a real need,” he said.
During an hour-long skirmish where both sides battled each other with rockets, mortars and heavy machine-guns, shells from the Thai side set the ramshackle market ablaze, utterly destroying it. At least one Thai soldier was confirmed killed in the fighting, but RCAF officials and soldiers believe the death toll to be higher, and the unofficial count at the temple among Cambodians for their Thai adversaries is 22 dead and 30 injured.
Thailand has long claimed that the Cambodian market was on Thai territory and should be removed.
On Monday morning, Suos Yara briefly met with more than 200 families of now homeless vendors who fled to Sa’em town-located around 20 km from the mountaintop Preah Vihear temple-to escape Friday’s fighting. There, he told the vendors of the government’s plans to build new stalls for them at the old site.
Suos Yara declined to provide further details on the date and the cost of the restoration plan for the market.
“During the meeting on Friday, Unesco officers were saddened over the damaging of the temple and the market,” Preah Vihear Authority Secretary-General Hang Soth said, adding that the market would be rebuilt at the same location but needed to be a more attractive facility with environmental safeguards. “The fighting among the troops is their jobs. Our job is to continue with our work plan and we are going to rebuild that marketplace,” Hang Soth said.
He said the fire had destroyed around 257 stalls at the market that had been developed at the base of the temple’s stairway starting around a decade ago.
The presence of the market, a ramshackle affair of narrow warren-like passages and extremely poor sanitation, had drawn concern from heritage experts over waste management and pollution. The presence of the market has also greatly annoyed Thai authorities.
Officials with Unesco could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Preah Vihear Provincial Governor Preap Tann said the new market would be remade of wood in a traditional Khmer-style and roofed with red clay tiles.
Keo Neang, a storeowner at the burned out market, said the currently shop-less vendors cheered the news of the government’s reconstruction plan announced by Suos Yara.
“We have hope again after hearing the announcement,” she said.