Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday denied plans to relocate thousands of residents from one area of the Angkor Archaeological Park following protests.
About 3,000 people living in Siem Reap’s Preah Dak commune on Wednesday gathered and protested at the commune hall, saying Apsara Authority officials had visited them to tell them they would need to relocate.
Residents elsewhere in the park have already been pressured to demolish their homes and shops and move to Run Ta Ek, a resettlement site about 23 km to the east.
Hun Sen and his senior officials had taken a hard line on the relocations, with the prime minister saying on Monday that any residents who refused to leave from the world heritage site would be evicted with no compensation as he could not allow Unesco to delist it.
But following Wednesday’s protest, Hun Sen denied that the government wanted to displace all residents from Preah Dak commune. He would send Land Minister Chea Sophara and Culture Minister Phoeurng Sackona to talk with residents directly on Friday, when they had planned another protest.
“We know that Preah Dak commune has been built up for about 300-400 years already, and this commune is still a commune that is involved in our territorial administration,” he said.
Hun Sen argued that officials were only studying the restoration of a nearby reservoir.
“Why did people start to worry about this thing?” he asked. “Please be calm.”
Preah Dak resident To Chiva, 30, said several officials in both uniforms and plainclothes had visited him on Wednesday to persuade to remove his house and relocate to Run Ta Ek. They traveled in many vehicles to make a round of the commune’s residences, he said.
“You will have to thumbprint and leave,” Chiva said he had been told.
“Lower authorities came down and said something different from samdech,” he said, using an honorific for Hun Sen.
Chiva said commune residents could not accept relocation as they had farmland, residences and a good location near tourist sites for doing business. They would receive only a 20 by 30 meter plot in the resettlement site.
“They, like me, have determined already that no matter what the final result might be, people in this commune will struggle till the final result.”