10,000 Angkor Wat residents facing mass eviction

FILE PHOTO: 10,000 residents around Angkor Wat are being forced out to preserve it's UNESCO status.

The UNESCO world heritage site of Angkor Wat, the largest religious complex in the world, is facing a humanitarian crisis. About 10,000 people who live in and around the site have been told that they must move before the new year. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen describes it as “voluntary relocations,” but residents being pushed out of their homes and businesses with very little compensation view it more as forced mass eviction.

The temples of Angkor Wat span 400 square acres and were designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992. It is considered one of the most important religious complexes in the world, like the Vatican. It is also the primary income driver for the town of Siem Reap and home to about 10,000 residents who set up shops, offer guide services, and sell food and souvenirs around the complex.

But last summer, authorities began showing up at market stalls telling everyone they had to be out by the end of the year at the latest. Some have been offered small plots of land as compensation. The land is in an undeveloped area about 20 kilometres away from Angkor Wat which wouldn’t provide much by way of work opportunities for the relocated residents.

The displaced locals were also offered US$250 and some metal sheeting for roofing to build new homes and 50 kilogrammes of rice to eat while they find a way to support themselves in their new location.

Residents were offered a 20 x 30-metre plot in the new village, a 40-minute motorbike commute to Angkor Wat where there’s money to be made. The area is freshly cleared but has no school or hospital or neighbourhood basics for people forced to relocate there.

On top of that, the people who already live in this remote area are being pushed out and threatened with land seizure to make way for the displaced people of Angkor Wat. The area has often been used as a location to move displaced residents from other parts of Siem Reap.

Cambodian officials say that in the past five years they’ve been warned twice about overdevelopment at Angkor Wat. The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO was concerned about the uncontrolled development in the area in a report in 2008. But its status has not been considered in danger since 2004. And in 2014 the committee said that Cambodia had made great progress in handling illegal structures in and around Angkor Wat.

The Prime Minister said that all the encroaching people must move and, if they don’t comply voluntarily, they will end up evicted without any compensation at all. He said that this move was necessary to keep Angkor Wat listed as a UNESCO site.

“Angkor Wat might be withdrawn from the world heritage [status] because it would lose the terms and conditions that are required by the world heritage commission.”

UNESCO responded to the controversy over the displacement of the 10,000 residents around Angkor Wat. A spokesperson for the UN agency seems to be against moving the residents from their homes. They said that Cambodia had promised to respect the human rights, livelihoods, and sustainable development of the residents there.

“UNESCO or the World Heritage Committee have never called for population displacements in Angkor.”

World News

Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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