Authorities in Preah Vihear province are preparing to move more than 700 families away from the ancient Preah Vihear temple, the site of a continued border standoff between Cambodia and Thailand that has seen violence and the destruction of civilian property.
Officials said the move was to help conserve the area, where the temple has been named a Unesco World Heritage site, and to make way for the development of a resort there.
Areas within 20 kilometers of the 11th Century temple will be off limits to individuals, and those families now living near the site will be moved to a nearby area called Sros Kdol, in Chaom Khsan district.
Around 300 families live in a market area near the temple that was completely destroyed in mortar fire during a border clash between soldiers along the contested border. Another 400 families live in a small town at the base of the Preah Vihear temple escarpment.
The Sros Kdol area is clear of landmines and has sufficient water and agricultural land, where it is hoped people will live in more security than they currently have.
“We cannot allow people living in the Unesco conservative area of Preah Vihear temple, in order to maintain and protect the World Heritage and the natural environment around the temple,” Preah Vihear Governor Preab Tann told VOA Khmer Friday.
The operation is being undertaken via royal decree, which establishes zones for protection, including areas around the temple, the mountain and the surrounding landscape, he said.
Cambodia and Thailand remain at odds over a small stretch of land near the temple, with each side using a different map to demarcate the border. Troops have been stationed along the border since July 2008, when the temple’s World Heritage listing sparked nationalist fervor on each side.
No civilians have so far been killed or injured in the small skirmishes that have since erupted, and some villagers said this week they were reluctant to leave.
“I’m very sorry that authorities plan to move my house,” said On Narith, a 40-year-old from Kor Muy village. “We don’t agree to leave our home in the village because we have real farmland, a house and a business. In the new location, we’ll remove our house and we will lose our money, and it is difficult to find a new job as well.”
Fellow villager Horn Meng Chu, 45, said she would leave her house at Kor Muy if she is paid proper compensation, “because it is in the national interest.”
“We struggled to demine for an orchard of fruit trees until we had fruit to eat,” she said. “It is not an easy thing.”
She asked that Prime Minister Hun Sen help them succeed in the new place.
“If Hun Sen does not help us in Kor Muy village,” she said, “we will fail.”