Villagers Look Back at Governors’ Last Visits

choam khsan district, Preah Vihear province – As Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema last week paid his second visit here since becoming governor of Phnom Penh more than a year ago, villagers were still talking about the man he replaced.

“Chea Sophara was very friendly and I love him,” said a woman who sold goods to tourists, referring to the former city governor who was sacked in the fallout of the anti-Thai riots last year. “When­ever he came to Preah Vihear, he visited the temple all the time.”

She had never seen Kep Chuk­tema, but she had heard his name. A taxi driver, who identified himself as Mach, said he only saw Kep Chuktema on television. He had fond memories, however, of Chea Sophara as governor visiting villagers and inspecting road construction.

After Thailand closed its border gate to Preah Vihear temple in 2001, preventing access to the temple, Chea Sophara unveiled plans to build a road in Preah Vihear province to give tourists access to the mountain top temple from inside Cambodia.

On Jan 14, 2003, thousands of Cambodians marched up the stone temple steps to celebrate improvements to the 113-km road from Tbeng Meanchey, the provincial capital. The road had been patched, graded and demined—paving would come later.

But about two weeks after, as Chea Sophara drove home from Preah Vihear, anti-Thai riots erupted in Phnom Penh. On Feb 11, 2003, Chea Sophara was removed as governor. Plans to pave the road effectively went with him.

During Kep Chuktema’s two-day visit here on March 10 and March 11, he was expected to visit the temple—officials cleared vendors from the temple steps, spread mats and roasted a pig—but refrained after inspecting a 5-km stretch of the steep road. About two weeks earlier, a teach­er reportedly drove off the road and died.

Last Thursday morning, while Kep Chuktema was distributing rice, fish brine and soybean sauce to villagers, he responded to their criticisms that he doesn’t visit them enough.

“Please pardon me, I am not afraid of anything because there is no Pol Pot anymore,” he said.

Preah Vihear Governor Preap Tann then urged villagers not to cut down trees for business because the area is considered an eco-tourism destination.

“Please don’t cut down trees for sale,” he said with Kep Chuktema at his side. “If the forest is cut there is nothing to see.”

As Kep Chuktema ate lunch afterwards, Preah Vihear forestry officials said a truck suspected of transporting high quality timber from the area met up with the governor’s convoy.

A chase of the governor’s convoy ensued, with gun shots fired at a checkpoint in Kompong Cham. The truck was not inspected. Forestry Administration is investigating the case.

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.