The annual practice of burning the forest around the Preah Khan temple in Preah Vihear province has put the 12th-century structure on the verge of collapse, a Culture Ministry official said this week.
“The temple is 85 percent destroyed,” Uong Von, director of the Heritage Department of the Ministry of Fine Arts and Culture, said Tuesday.
Uong Von said the temple was being destroyed by local villagers who are burning the forest to drive out wild animals to catch them. He criticized local officials for not doing more to protect the temple and said the most damaged sections should be closed to tourists because they are dangerous.
Preah Vihear deputy governor Long Sovann denied that the fires present any danger to the temple or that the temple presents any danger to tourists.
Long Sovann said that even if the fires were damaging the temple, the local government doesn’t have the resources to stop villagers from starting them.
“We lack police officers to guard the temple, and they don’t even have weapons,” he said. In the past, he said, officers haven’t been able to stop looters from stealing the temple’s sculptures.
Preah Vihear environment department Director Khoy Khun Chanrath also said Wednesday that the fires occurred each year during the dry season and that it was the civil wars—not the fires—that have destroyed the temples.
“[Preah Khan] is broken in all directions,” Khoy Khun Chanrath said.