Thousands Gather to Celebrate UN Recognition of New Heritage Site

In a celebration that filled the capital’s sky with fireworks, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday lauded the recognition of Cambodia’s newly inaugurated World Heritage site, Sambor Prei Kuk, a collection of about 50 pre-Angkorian temples in Kompong Thom province.

Addressing a crowd of thousands at Olympic Stadium, the prime minister boasted that his ruling CPP party had pushed for the recent achievement, as they had when the temple at Preah Vihear was listed as a heritage site in 2008. The country’s first Unesco-recognized heritage site is Angkor Archaeological Park outside Siem Reap City, which received the designation in 1992.

Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers remarks to a crowd at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“This is our pride and it is not a monopoly to anyone,” he said.

Mr. Hun Sen said the 7th century Chenla-era temples could lure tourists to Kompong Thom province, where they are scattered across more than 2,000 hectares of forest, which would create more jobs.

He said Cambodians had a duty to protect their ancestral heritage, citing a proverb for emphasis: “Please don’t kill a hen to cook for good food.”

Mr. Hun Sen also took the opportunity to taunt critics who had speculated on his health last week. Brushing off the rumors that he had traveled to Singapore for medical treatment, he asked, “Am I the real Hun Sen, nieces and nephews?”

Sambor Prei Kuk was accepted as a World Heritage site on July 10, four years after the government petitioned the U.N. cultural body. Mr. Hun Sen said the event would be marked on government calendars in the years to come as a day of celebration.

In announcing the designation, Unesco said the art and architecture developed at Sambor Prei Kuk laid the ground “for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.”

The site is about 200 km north of Phnom Penh and 170 km southeast of Siem Reap.

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