New Tourism Director Happy After First Week

On Aug 23,  Prime Minister Hun Sen officially appointed Kousoum Saroeuth, director of tourism in Siem Reap since 1988 and owner of the Angkor Tour­ism agency in Siem Reap, to become the director general of the Minis­try of Tourism, filling a position that had been vacant since former director So Mara was fired in July after signing a pact with Thailand on the maintenance of Preah Vihear temple.

“He has been very experienced in tourism, and we need a new director general who can supervise all departments in the ministry,” said Sisowath Chivan­nariddh, undersecretary of state at the tourism ministry.

When asked if he agrees with the new appointment, Sisowath Chivannariddh said: “that is not for me to say, but from what I know about him he appears to be the right man for the job.”

So Mara was fired July 17 for overstepping his authority by signing an agreement with Thailand to help manage the tourist facilities at Preah Vihear temple, which is located on the border between the two countries.

The day after So Mara was fired, Minister of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth sent a letter to Thai­ officials saying the agreement was nullified on the grounds that So Mara did not have the authority to approve the contract.

So Mara was demoted to a civil servant position in the Ministry of Tour­ism.

Speaking Thursday after serving his first official week as director general, Kousoum Saroeuth said he is pleased to be the new director and plans to increase tourism in Cambodia by im­proving the Ministry of Tourism’s Web site, publishing more bro­chures on Cambodian tourism  and using more advertising.

The Angkor Tourism agency will not take away from his work at the ministry because he is passing on his responsibilities with the travel agency to employees at Angkor Tourism, Kou­soum Saroeuth said.

Working for the ministry and owning a travel agency will not cause a conflict of interest because the Angkor Tourism agency is a member of the Cambodian Asso­ciation of Travel Agencies, an umbrella organization of more than 50 travel agencies in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, he added.

“Because we are part of CATA, everything that Angkor Tourism does with the ministry must go through CATA, so Angkor Tour­ism will have no direct dealings with the ministry,” Kousoum Saroeuth said.

Kousoum Saroeuth said he is pleased with the development of Siem Reap town and tourism in the area, praising the construction of six hotels in Siem Reap this year. When asked whether development could endanger Angkor Wat, he said he will rely on the Apsara Authority to protect the temples.

“Apsara Authority is doing a good job of protecting the temples, and now that they have restructured they will continue to do a good job,” he said, referring to the firing of Apsara Authority President Vann Molyvann in early June.

Vann Molyvann has claimed he was ousted because he had the power to reject illegal construction permits, and the Apsara Authority wanted to control the permits around Angkor Wat. The government has not given an official reason for his firing.

National Assembly Lawmaker Nan Sy, the Funcinpec parliamentarian who led the effort to remove So Mara as director general of the tourism ministry, did not know whether Kousoum Saroeuth would be an improvement over So Mara, but said he is willing to give him a chance.

“I do not know if he is good or bad, so we will have to see if he will work for the people of Cam­bodia, and we will watch closely to make sure he does not sell off any of our temples to other nations,” Nan Sy said.

There are still unresolved issues between lawmakers and the Ministry of Tourism, Nan Sy said, adding that he hoped the new director general would help straighten out.

“We still want an answer for the Preah Vihear deal—we want to know what happened in the Ministry of Tourism that allowed So Mara to make the pact with Thailand. The ministers must answer to the National Assembly. We will not forget it,” Nan Sy said.


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