Several hundred monks living in makeshift pagodas near Angkor Wat are no threat to tourists and should be allowed to stay, the director of the Apsara Authority said Sunday.
Poor visitors to the temple complex can stay at the pagodas for free, Bun Narith said. If pagodas are well-managed, the tourists can learn about Cambodian culture, he said.
“Pagodas near Angkor helped to protect [the temples] in the past,” he said.
But Bun Narith said the ultimate decision on evictions was up to the Ministry of Cults and Religion. “All the pagodas should respect the law and behave well in Buddhism,” he said.
Officials have already requested that the estimated 170 monks and nuns leave the 10 small pagodas inside the complex’s boundaries, said Pich Sokin, third deputy governor of Siem Reap.
Authorities are acting gingerly because of a desire to adhere to peaceful Buddhist principles, Pich Sokin said. But the Apsara Authority and the religion ministry will set up a committee that will eventually evict the monks, he said.
“These are not really pagodas,” he said. “The monks squat and build cottages so they can stay.”
In March, Tep Vong, patriarch of the Mohanikaya sect, ordered the pagodas torn down, saying that they had been built without permission and that they are a threat to public order, the environment and tourism.
The order exempts two temples built in the 1940s that have been recognized by King Norodom Sihanouk.
The compounds, most built during the late 1980s, attract panhandlers who trash the park, officials say.
“It is not suitable for people to live here because it can reduce the beautiful sights,” said Heritage Police Deputy Chief Tan Chay.
Chea Sophat, chief of the police force, said the pagodas were “a security hazard” because criminals might stay in them.
The pagodas are also built on property that may include archaeologically significant objects, Pich Sokin said. “The law states that if we remove one rock, we can be punished,” he said.