Authorities threatened to start tearing down more than 500 shops and homes illegally erected in Angkor Archaeological Park in the runup to the commune elections, setting up a potential clash today with villagers who said they would refuse to budge.
Long Kosal, a spokesman for the Apsara Authority, the government body that manages the park, said villagers in the park’s Nokor Thom commune built new homes or shops adjacent to their homes without approval, potentially damaging the environment and the beauty of the park near Siem Reap City.
“We tried to stop those people from building the houses illegally before, but it was challenging because they always built in the nighttime. They created 523 cases within two weeks,” Mr. Kosal said, referring to structures purportedly built between May 20 and June 2.
He said he did not know how many families had participated, but none had sought Apsara approval. The park is protected by cultural zones implemented in 1994 that require government assessment of developments to protect the park.
Apsara sent out notices from Thursday to Saturday informing residents that their additions would be forcefully removed in a week if they were not willingly taken down, he said. Today, those informed first will meet their deadline, Mr. Kosal said, and park authorities, provincial and military police will “take action” to remove the new structures.
Sar Vannara, Siem Reap province coordinator for rights group Licadho, said Apsara had been aware of the construction and could have prevented the villagers from continuing their projects, but had intentionally turned a blind eye until now.
“They just ignored the building because they were afraid of losing the elections,” he said, referring to the first commune elections in five years that took place on June 4. “The people have received the information, but they will not remove them.”
According to Pheang Poeu, chief of Rohal village in the commune, a handful of the structures had been built prior to May 20. While he had given a nod of approval to villagers who sought his permission to build the houses, he said he had told them to also submit letters to Apsara. Some heeded his recommendation, he said, but did not get a reply.
Thoeun Chantrea, 32, said that after about a week of not hearing back from Apsara, she decided Mr. Poeu’s approval was sufficient. She took out a $5,000 microfinance loan to build a 4-by-6-meter shop beside her house to sell groceries and soft drinks to tourists, she said.
“I will not remove my shop because I spent a lot of money to build it,” she said. “I will call other people in the village to protest against Apsara Authority if they come to remove our shops and houses.”