Land Minister Chea Sophara on Wednesday warned people living near Angkor Wat not to protest an ongoing order to demolish what his ministry has deemed illegally built structures that affect the beauty of the temple area.
Sophara said during a speech at a campaign ceremony in Siem Reap that the ministry has counted 8,448 illegal constructions from 2019 until the middle of 2022. He called these “shaming buildings” and said their owners are responsible for demolishing them.
“If there is any action, if any protest with a hammer or knife happens, I will arrest [them] at the place,” Sophara said. “I stand here to face and solve this problem.”
Unesco has listed the 400-square-kilometer Angkor archaeological park as a world heritage site since 1992. In his speech, Sophara said Unesco had issued warnings about such construction on two occasions in the Angkor area since 2017, adding that the government does not want to receive a third warning.
A press release from the land management ministry issued Wednesday stated that land sales are forbidden in the Angkor area, and that local authorities should not provide any legal documents as such.
For local residents, the ministry warnings have complicated their property rights.
Ong Chanly, 52, said authorities had blocked her from building a house on her land even though she claimed she had a soft title for it.
“I had a land title to show them, but they said it belonged to Apsara,” said Chanly, who sells firewood for a living. “I have sent the letter for permission, but they still reject it.”
She requested the relevant authority to check her land to build a small house. Currently, Chanly said she can only grow vegetables there.