Development in Siem Reap will be the top agenda item when delegates from more than 30 countries and international organizations meet Friday and Saturday in Paris to discuss the safeguarding of the Angkor temples.
This will be the first time since the Tokyo Conference of October 1993 that several high-level government representatives—including Japan’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ichiro Aisawa—will meet to discuss the international support required to preserve Cambodia’s most famous historical site.
In recent years, the annual meeting has been held in Siem Reap at the working group level, with ambassadors and midlevel officials attending. French President Jacques Chirac is scheduled to open this year’s meeting, in which delegates are to review work accomplished in Angkor Archeological Park and make plans for future projects.
After a decade of efforts the needs remain enormous, but they now are of a different nature, said Etienne Clement, representative of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Cambodia. In 1993, it was urgent to protect the monuments themselves, he said.
“We have spent 10 years on restoration,” said French Ambassador Andre-Jean Libourel. “Now we are gearing toward development.”
“Today, problems to be solved include protecting the environment, cleaning up the Siem Reap river, water supplies and drainage, and the matter of urban and tourism development that must be done in harmony with the development of Angkor,” said Bun Narith, chairman of the Apsara Authority, which manages the temple complex. These issues will be discussed at the conference, Bun Narith said.
Minister of Culture Princess Bopha Devi is leading the Cambodian delegation. Bun Narith is also scheduled to attend.
Delegates will also examine ways to help villagers living near the temples benefit from development, Clement said. To discuss this issue, the UN Development Program, the Asian Development Bank and donor countries have been invited to the meeting, he said.
Monument restoration is also a priority. Although a great deal has been done since 1993, “some monuments have not even been touched,” Japanese Ambassador Gotaro Ogawa said.
According to the working document prepared for the conference, the 40,000 hectare Angkor Archeological Park contains 40 major monuments and hundreds of structures, some of them reduced to just a few stones on the ground.
Maintenance on the Angkor temples was halted after the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, and by the early 1990s the monuments were losing the battle against the jungle and the elements.
In September 1991, one month before the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, then prince Norodom Sihanouk made an official request for Unesco to help Angkor.
In December 1992, Angkor was put on the prestigious World Heritage List, and in October 1993, Japan organized the first international conference on Angkor, Ogawa said.
This led to the creation of the International Coordinating Committee, which oversees restoration and development projects at Angkor, he said. The ICC is co-chaired by Japan and France, with Unesco serving as its secretariat.
In the last few years, the Apsara Authority, which is a member of the ICC, has assumed increasing responsibilities at Angkor with the technical support of the committee.
“We need more training because, in the future, we must start handling restoration work and site management ourselves,” Bun Narith said.
Already the staff on restoration projects are mostly Cambodian, and technical experts conduct on-site training for Cambodian workers, architects and archaeologists.
Still, Cambodians need more training in specialized fields, from tourism development and site management to stone conservation, Bun Narith said. Financial and technical support for training will be one of the requests Cambodia intends to make at the Paris meeting, he added.