Local Authorities ‘Cheated’ Angkor Villagers, Official Says

A provincial official has acknowledged for the first time that local authorities took money from villagers to allow constructions inside Angkor Archaeological Park, but said on Thursday that the illegal structures would still be demolished.

Deputy Siem Reap provincial governor Ly Samrith said that some villagers had been “cheated” by local officials, but only those who had submitted forms to the Apsara Authority asking for permission would be spared from the weekslong demolition operation that began earlier this month.

“We think that some constructions would be allowed to stay, but if we give them a pardon, they will extend their constructions to the front of the Angkor temple,” he said.

The acknowledgement that local authorities had accepted money and given permission for some structures inside the park confirmed villagers’ accounts, and contradicted at least one former commune chief who previously denied any payments.

“The people believed those officials and offered them the money…[and officials said] the upper levels will not know about the new construction if [officials] did not report it to them,” Mr. Samrith said.

More than 10 families who had submitted letters to the Apsara Authority—the government agency in charge of managing the park—would be spared from the operation, he said.

“We sent the name of the families to Apsara Authority and they are checking the applications, and the provincial removal committee will give a pardon for the constructions to stay,” Mr. Samrith said.

Long Kosal, spokesman for the Apsara Authority, said on Thursday that 196 structures had been removed between August 10 and Wednesday, and most of the structures were removed by homeowners “voluntarily.”

More than 500 structures were built inside Angkor Archaeological Park in the weeks leading up to June commune elections, in what appeared to be a repeat of previous election cycles where local authorities looked the other way in order to curry favor as villagers built unapproved structures.

But while previous structures were often left untouched, this year the Apsara Authority—with the support of provincial authorities and the U.N.—has taken a harder line against the constructions, a fact attributed by villagers to the opposition’s victory in the area during the June commune elections.

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