Angkor Wat Vendors Petition PM to Remain in Temple Park

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House and shop demolitions in Angkor Archaeological Park in September 2022. (Supplied)

Officials have ordered the owners of about 57 souvenir and restaurant stalls inside the Angkor Wat temple complex to take down their stands and leave the area by Friday, but the vendors have banded together to negotiate for an alternative place to continue their work.

Souvenir vendor Ey Riem, 55, said on Wednesday that authorities ordered the shops to close without an offer of compensation. On Monday, 171 people associated with the shops thumb-printed and sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking for help after authorities told them the day before to stop buying new merchandise to sell to tourists.

The vendors’ stalls are part of a wider crackdown on those residing or selling goods in Angkor Archaeological Park, a Unesco-recognized world heritage site. Officials have said these activities can be illegal near the temples and may compromise the park’s recognition by Unesco.

In their letter to Hun Sen, the 171 stall-owners wrote that the Apsara Authority had offered on March 5, 2020 to allow them to exchange their places within the Angkor complex for shops in an officially-approved vending area in front of the temple.

“We have agreed to move to a new place before,” Riem said. “We don’t want that, but it is the request from the government to improve the Angkor Wat environment.”

However, it now seems that this earlier request has expired, Riem said.

“They asked us and got our thumbprints to accept a place in front of the Angkor temple. But now they have the sellers [there] already, and we have nothing yet,” she explained. “They have another solution for us to [go to] Run Ta Ek, but how can we make a living from there?”

Officials have begun arranging compensatory land plots in Run Ta Ek, a rural location about 20 kilometers east of Angkor Wat, near the site of Siem Reap’s unfinished new international airport. Officials say the land there, which is overseen by the Apsara Authority, will go to evicted park residents. Run Ta Ek is now mostly forestland in various stages of clearing.

The vendors who petitioned Hun Sen say they’re wary of the plan to move to Run Ta Ek, as they don’t know how they’ll make their living there. For now, Riem said they’re going to stay put until authorities can find them a place to continue selling their souvenirs.

“We are not against them, and we will voluntarily remove it [all] ourselves if they have a proper solution for us,” Riem said. “This is a big problem for us, by cutting off our arms and legs, we can’t move anywhere.”

Hy Say, director of the Siem Reap provincial land management department, said Wednesday that only people who have a home in the Angkor park will be moved to Run Ta Ek – not just anyone hoping to get compensation for lost property.

“The local authority told them to remove the shops,” he said of the vendors at Angkor. “We started to remove the shops, but there wasn’t a deadline for them.”

Say said that Unesco has warned the Cambodian government twice already in the past to manage the impacts of park residents on the temples. He added that there has been no use of force on the Angkor residents or sellers, and that their eviction from the park has been voluntary.

“Most of them understand and have volunteered to move. I don’t know the next procedure for those who don’t want to move out,” he said. 

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