UNESCO sees time for social action at Cambodian archaeological site of Angkor

The results of the campaign to save the vast archaeological complex of temples, thanks to the efforts of the international community which has invested more than $50 million, the commitment of Cambodia’s authorities and coordination led by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), speak for themselves, UNESCO said in a report today on the conference, held in Paris.The 100 or so restoration and development projects carried out over the past 10 years include the clearing of more than 25,000 anti-personnel mines – some 3,000 of which were found in archaeological sites – and the destruction of 80,000 explosive devices left behind by the civil war; the establishment of a special heritage protection police force; a detailed inventory of cultural goods; and awareness raising campaigns against the sale of stolen objects, have stopped cultural pillaging in the protected area.”What has been learned in this decade, and is still being learned, could serve as a model for the rehabilitation of other ancient sites in post conflict situations – such as Bamiyan in Afghanistan or the Mesopotamian legacy in Iraq – that have suffered from neglect, wanton destruction, and the devastation of war,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura told the meeting, the Second Intergovernmental Conference for the Safeguarding and Sustainable Development of Angkor.Angkor, Cambodia’s main attraction and capital of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 15th centuries, is a vast archaeological park spread over 401 square kilometres, with an exceptional concentration of monuments of religious, historical, artistic and human value. Apart from the world-renowned temples of Angkor Wat, there are about 40 other edifices representing different periods and styles. All are part of an exceptional natural environment, characterized by rivers, forests and rice paddies.Angkor is also a community made up of tens of thousands of people who are the keepers of popular traditions, with a rich oral heritage, and some of the new projects that the conference supported reflect this, including infrastructure work to install a water supply system for the area’s residential population, improvements in sanitation and the rehabilitation of the bridge close to the Takeo Temple on the Siem Reap River.One of the challenges is the management of the huge number of tourists. More than 300,000 visitors came in 2003 and their number is growing at an annual rate of 30 per cent. The Paris Declaration adopted at the end of the conference recognizes “the need to develop sustainable ethical tourism in the Siem Reap/Angkor region as a tool in the fight against poverty.”The Angkor Programme’s international projects, both past and future, include training to allow Cambodia to build up a body of personnel trained in cultural heritage management and conservation, as all personnel trained in these areas were either killed or fled the country during the time of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Projects are thus helping create a generation of competent architects and archaeologists who will gradually take charge of international actions.

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