Several hundred homeowners in Siem Reap province blocked the road between Angkor Wat and Siem Reap Airport for several hours on Friday to protest authorities’ removal of a home recently built inside the archaeological park.
Early on Friday morning the Apsara Authority, which manages Angkor Archaeological Park, removed a cement home that the government body says was built illegally in Veal village in Siem Reap City’s Kokchak commune, about 1 km west of Angkor Wat.
That caused more than 300 villagers to take to the streets to protest at about noon, according to Licadho provincial investigator Men Kimsour, marking an escalation of a dispute that began last week when the authority announced it would begin removing more than 500 homes it claims were built illegally in nearby communes, including Kokchak, during the run-up to commune elections earlier this month.
Residents have blamed the authority for not stopping them when they began building the houses and say that the removal of the houses would leave them heavily indebted.
Yar Lin, 37, who said he had built a cement house in Kokchak late last month during the campaign period ahead of the June 4 elections, said he joined the protest on Friday to try to change the government’s mind.
“We would like to request to the Apsara Authority not to remove the villagers’ houses because they took loans from banks to build the houses,” Mr. Lin said, adding that the people would continue to protest if the Apsara Authority came to tear down homes again.
Pheang Poeu, chief of nearby Rohal village in Nokor Thom commune, where residents protested last week after a house was demolished by the authority, said that most of the villagers took loans from Kredit microfinance to fund the construction. Pich Thoeun, a receptionist at the microfinance institution’s call center, declined to comment, citing her clients’ privacy.
Deputy provincial governor Ly Samrith said the protest affected public order.
“Those people were angry with the Apsara Authority, which removed their houses, but I did not understand why they blocked the road,” Mr. Samrith said. “I think they are exercising their rights to the extreme.”
The deputy governor added that the villagers dispersed at about 4 p.m. after he called the Apsara Authority and instructed them to resolve the problem.
Contacted on Sunday, Apsara Authority spokesman Long Kosal said the government body would not compensate the villagers and would continue tearing down the homes.
“I think that the people’s protest is not fair, because they constructed their houses illegally in Angkor Archaeological Park,” Mr. Kosal said, while also disputing the claim that the authority had turned a blind eye during there construction.
“We have told those people when they were constructing the houses [that they were illegal], but they did not listen to us,” he said.
Siem Reap City police chief Tith Darong declined to comment about the protests, simply saying that the villagers were angry because the authorities were destroying their homes.
“The villagers will not continue to protest if the Apsara Authority stops removing their houses,” he said.
pheap@cambodiadaily.com
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