The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said last year, it cracked down on 18 cases of land grabs at archaeological sites, while 6,617 archaeological sites including burial places, ancient temples, ancient pagodas and irrigation systems across the country were registered for conservation.

The ministry’s Department of Archaeology and Prehistory head, Voeun Vuthy, confirmed that land grabbing at the 18 archaeological sites had been suppressed and settled in six provinces, with most of the cases in Phnom Penh, and Kandal, Stung Treng and Prey Veng provinces.

“The ministry stands by government policy guidelines and appealed to the court through legal procedures in five major cases – three in Kandal province, one in Kampong Speu and another in Kampong Chhnang,” Vuthy said.

He said the 6,617 archaeological sites listed and under conservation were based on four principles – prehistoric or Funan-style ancient houses, archaeological sites that have temples in the Angkor and pre-Angkor periods, ancient pagoda in the post-Angkor period, and historical buildings in the French period.

The last includes the conservation of historical buildings after the French period.

Vuthy was speaking at a press conference on the “Career progress and continuing employment direction of the Ministry of Culture” on Monday, organised by the Government Spokesperson’s Office.

The ministry’s secretary of state and spokesman, Long Ponnasirivath, said land grabbing at archaeological or cultural sites were sometimes unknown to the ministry at the early stages, while other cases involved pure greed.

He said cultural sites that are listed as heritage sites were also encroached upon, while the most vulnerable to encroachment were those sites in proximity to development areas.

“The Constitution, civil and criminal law identifies heritage land as state property and cannot be converted into private ownership,” he said.

The ministry said such violations of the law include clearing heritage land, illegally excavating artefacts, demolishing ancient architecture to put up new buildings, forest crimes and the building of illegal houses at Angkor Wat, Preah Vihear and Sambor Prei Kuk sites.

Apsara Authority spokeswoman, Long Kosal said currently the Apsara Authority is undergoing several renovations in the vicinity of the Angkor Resorts to make the historic site more attractive to local and international tourists.

He said such improvements include extending road infrastructure projects, development of automatic irrigation systems to increase the green in both dry and rainy season in the temple surroundings, reforestation in front of the temple, establishing a hospitality centre in front of the temple and stopping disorganised sales in its vicinity.