Angkor: time for developmentTen years after the start of the campaign to safeguard Angkor (Cambodia), most of serious problems affecting the site that is so emblematic of Khmer culture have been solved, thanks to the efforts of the international community, which has invested more than US$50 million, the commitment of the kingdom’s authorities and UNESCO-led coordination.
The results over the last ten years speak for themselves: the 100 or so restoration and development projects carried out 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. 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.
Along with the archaeological and architectural safeguarding, in which teams from France, Japan, Germany, Italy, India and China continue to participate, the time has come to act in favour of development, by broadening the process to include projects that will directly benefit the local population.
This idea served as the basis for discussion at the Second Intergovernmental Conference for the Safeguarding and Sustainable Development of Angkor and its Region held in Paris over the weekend of November 14 and 15, at the invitation of the French Government, and members of the International Coordination Committee (ICC), presided over by France and Japan, and for which UNESCO provides the secretariat.
As UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura pointed out: “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.”
Of the some 40 projects that the Conference decided to support, mention should be made of the restoration of the Phnom Bakheng Temple (10th century) - the most threatened site at Angkor - the setting up of a central heritage conservation laboratory, sign-posting for the monuments, a study and 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.
Furthermore, to improve communication between the site and other provinces throughout the country, the Cambodian government has committed itself, over the long- term, to building a new airport away from the archaeological sites, to increasing river traffic between Phnom Penh and Battambang, rehabilitating the access road to Thailand and developing the provincial road network. The aim is to encourage tourists to lengthen the time of their stay by exploring the region and discovering its many treasures.
One of the challenges to be dealt with 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 percent. 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 Declaration also stresses “the importance of seeing to it that the local communities in this zone and around the Tonle Sap are involved in the promotion of this policy in order to highlight the diversity of their tangible and intangible cultural resources and to offer them access to education and training as well employment opportunities and a meaningful cultural life.”
Another important aspect of the Angkor Programme’s international projects – both past and future – is that they 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. Projects are thus contributing to the creation of a generation of competent archictects and archaeologists who will gradually take charge of international actions.
Along with the rescue of Abu Simbel (Egypt), a perfect example of mobilization by the international community launched in the 1960s under UNESCO’s auspices, and the campaigns in favour of Borobudur (Indonesia), Angkor is a shining illustration of the efficiency of joint initiative when it comes to preserving a world heritage site.
Angkor is Cambodia’s main attraction. It was the capital of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 15th centuries. A vast archaeological park spread over 401 km², it contains 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 respresenting 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.
UNESCO gave formal recognition to the site in 1992, by inscribing it on both the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger. In making this decision, the World Heritage Committee decided to waive some of the conditions required “in answer to an exceptional situation”. Priority was given to demining operations essential for free and safe movement in the area. Theft, vandalism, pillage and trafficking of cultural objects were also ravaging the site, sometimes causing irreparable damage to temples and monuments, which during the years of civil war and under the regime of the Khmer Rouge, had been totally abandonned.
Conscious of the damage, King Norodom Sihanouk launched a solemn appeal to the international community, which, in reply, organized the first intergovernmental conference on safeguarding and developing Angkor in Tokyo (October 1993). The Tokyo Declaration, adopted at the end of that conference defined the spirit, the framework and the mode of international action.
The Declaration which has just been adopted in Paris, with a series of recommendations which will be implemented under the aegis of the Cambodian Authority for the Protection of the Site and Development of the Angkor Region (APSARA) created in 1995 by the Cambodian authorities, constitutes a decisive step towards the affirmation that the cultural heritage of a people is part of their identity, and, as such, a key to their reconstruction. Says King Nordom Sihanouk, “Angkor is no longer in danger, but is, at long last, on the way to prosperity.”
*Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Russian Federation, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, the United States of America, Viet Nam, the Asian Development Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts (SEAMEO/SPAFA), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank, the World Monuments Fund (WMF), and the World Tourism Organization (WTO).
**The full text of the Paris Declaration is available online at: http://www.unesco.org/culture/angkor/parisdeclaration