Apsara Authority Demolitions Backed by the UN

The government’s decision to remove more than 500 homes it claims were built illegally in the Angkor Archaeological Park was supported by the U.N. on Monday, a blow to homeowners who say the issue was ignored leading up to commune elections.

The Apsara Authority, the government body responsible for managing the world heritage site, posted a Facebook status on Monday quoting Unesco country representative Anne Lemaistre as saying that the U.N.’s scientific and cultural body “wishes to support the action of Apsara Authority to stop and remove the illegal constructions in Zone 1 and Zone 2,” adding that the removal was the result of “an agreement between Cambodia and UNESCO.”

Contacted on Monday, Ms. Lemaistre confirmed Unesco supported the Apsara Authority, although she said she was unaware of the exact number of illegal structures.

“I didn’t know [it was] 500,” Ms. Lemaistre said. “It’s a matter of case-by-case study. It’s not improvisation.”

She said the Apsara Authority had conducted a survey to determine which structures were authorized and which were illegal.

Only two houses and one shop have been torn down so far.

The demolitions sparked protests from hundreds of villagers, who say the authority turned a blind eye to the construction of the homes during the tightly contested commune election campaign late last month.

The most recent demolition in Kokchak commune on Friday sparked a protest of more than 300 villagers, who blocked the road that runs from Siem Reap International Airport to Angkor Wat for several hours before dispersing.

Apsara Authority spokesman Long Kosal has said the government would continue demolishing homes until all the illegal structures are removed.

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