Preparations for an enormous “tourism city” located close to the gates of Angkor Archaeological Park are slowly proceeding despite difficulties in acquiring the estimated 1,000 hectares of land needed to begin construction, officials said Wednesday.
The Angkor Siem Reap Cultural Tourism City is set to include luxury hotels, museums and cultural centers on land leased out by the Apsara Authority to private firms for 70 years, said Soeung Kong, deputy director general of the authority, the government body managing Angkor.
But though 400 hectares of land have been acquired in Siem Reap and Prasat Bakong districts, the mega-project has remained on the drawing board since 1998 because the villagers on the remaining 600 hectares, many of whom were resettled to the land by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the early 1990s, are refusing to sell at the low offers being made.
But this year, Soeung Kong said, the government is making a push to finally acquire the rest of the land.
“There are difficulties because the land is getting expensive,” he said.
He added that the issue is complicated by the fact that the villagers have legal land titles issued in 1993. But in 1997, a government subdecree declared the land to be state property.
“Now we are solving the issue for [the villagers],” Soeung Kong said. “We have a negotiation policy…land is estimated according to its type,” he said.
Currently, Apsara is offering villagers between a meager $0.02 per square meter and $5 per square meter for their land, which is located in the vicinity of the secondary entrance to the park.
Apsara Authority Deputy Director for Tourism Tep Henn said the city is designated to include a golf course, while India plans to help build a silk museum and Chinese companies want to build multiple hotels, he said, adding that the entire city will occupy 1,007 hectares.
Villagers, however, said they will want the market price for their land if they are expected to sell.
Villager Nhem Mom, 30, of Siem Reap district’s Slor Kram commune, said villagers in her area live on land designated for hotels and have been offered just $2 per square meter in a province that has the most expensive land in the country.
“Villagers can’t accept it because they can’t buy another plot of land somewhere else” with that amount, she added.
She said that 148 families were settled to the area and that the UN had purchased proper land titles for them in 1993.
“I have the proper land title,” she said. “The villagers do not want to leave and they want Apsara Authority to withdraw their survey markers from our land.”
Her neighbor So Nat also said families want to continue living on their property. “Villagers have not agreed with the price since the beginning,” he said. “Villagers just want to live here.”
The problems related to the land date to October 1995, said Tamara Teneishvili, World Heritage program specialist at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Teneishvili explained that in 1995, the government created what was then called the “hotel zone” to provide badly needed funds to Apsara, which would earn a profit by attracting investment to the designate area.
Political turmoil and other issues delayed Apsara from starting to purchase the “hotel zone” land until 2000, she said, by which time a single “hotel zone” had been made redundant by runaway hotel construction work in Siem Reap town.
“The zone was designed to avoid exactly what has happened in the intervening years, which is an explosion of hotel construction everywhere else around the city,” she said.