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Ancient sites threatened by clearing

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Voeun Vuthy says Cambodia’s ancient sites are under threat. Moeun Nhean

Ancient sites threatened by clearing

Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts experts have expressed concerns that ancient sites are threatened by land clearing.

The sites were classified into three types – religious, such as temples and shrines; ancient burial sites, which have suffered from raiders seeking precious objects; and other ancient sites including villages, ponds, hills and bridges.

Voeun Vuthy, the director at the ministry’s Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, told The Post the ancient sites are being disturbed by public and forest land clearing.

He said four ancient sites were locked in disputes and in court procedures. One is located in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district and involved land dredging.

Two other sites are in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung and Kien Svay districts. The last and most controversial one is located on Doh Kramom mountain in Ratanakkiri province’s Banlung district.

“Development, population growth, illegal land clearing and raiding tombs for ancient objects have created many challenges."

“More than 1,000 indigenous families in Ratanakkiri province’s Doh Kramom mountain filed a lawsuit against the ministry and the issue has been worked on since 2016. It involves forest land clearing on an ancient site, which is a cultural indigenous centre."

“Talking about the challenge, we experience many problems because of development, population growth, illegal land clearing and excavation hunting for ancient objects,” Vuthy said.

Kroeung Tola, the Bunong ethnic group coordinator in Ranakkiri province, said: “The Doh Kramom mountain area is a cultural centre, not only for indigenous people but for everybody.

“The sites belong to everybody, not just for one group or individuals. I know the site belongs to the nation, so I organised a group to protect it,” he said.

Vuthy said the court case came about following powerful and wealthy individuals attempting to violate the ancient site since 2013.

He said the ministry and relevant authorities have cracked down on nearly 700 incidences of violations against ancient sites.

Since 2008, the ministry has ordered the department to register ancient sites across the country for maintenance and preservation as national treasures. The ministry has formally registered 6,644 sites thus far and expects more to be found and listed.

Phnom Penh Department of Culture director Chum Vuthy told The Post that each year, the department often inspects ancient sites registered in all of the capital’s districts.

“We have worked on this matter for many years. We want to update the ministry’s plans and see how many ancient sites are registered [with the ministry thus far]. What are the conditions of sites and what are the challenges they face?"

“We inspect the sites and assess the areas as the government did not previously know the area demarcating the sites’ boundaries. Now, we seek to prevent overlapping the sites with surrounding villagers’ land,” he said.

The Royal Decree on the Protection of Natural Areas was signed into law to protect natural areas and ancient sites in 1993.

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