A Cambodian success: Safeguarding cultural heritage

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Bayon Temple, Angkor. wikimedia/Colin W/panoramio

Cambodia and her people, under the wise leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, are ready to chair the official launch of the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) tomorrow in Siem Reap, the home of Angkor. Several hundred guests, including national and international dignities from more than 20 countries, will attend the first ever session of ACC after it was established in October last year.

The tripartite agreement – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), ICAPP, and ICC-Angkor—was made on December 4, 2018 in Siem Reap. The Asian Cultural Council (ACC) is now recognised by Unesco. ACC is an affiliated body of ICAPP (International Conference of Asia Political Parties) and has representation from more than 350 parties from 52 countries across Asia.

Cambodia’s greater role

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s foreign diplomacy has gained tremendous support from the international community. The tripartite agreement between Unesco, ICAPP, and ACC, has enabled Cambodia to play a greater role in the promotion of cultural exchanges, cooperation, and conservation.

Cambodia, as chair of the ACC, will use this council as a means to greater safeguard intangible cultural heritage across Asia, as well as for peace, development, and prosperity of the people in Asia – where the countries have diversified cultures and a wide range of both tangible and intangible heritages and properties.

The prime minister said in Siem Reap in early December 2018 that such a tripartite agreement is an exciting prospect which will enable the Asian Cultural Council to accomplish its goals of promoting cultural exchanges, cooperation, and conservation, as well as contributing to peace, development, and prosperity across Asia. The Council will support the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property, and will assist in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage across Asia.

Also, Cambodia’s great experience and success in the protection, restoration, preservation, and development of UN-listed Heritage Sites, will help Cambodia to make the ACC another success story as ICC-Angkor has been. Speaking on the occasion of the tripartite agreement, Prime Minister Hun Sen said: “I would like to appeal to all friendly countries, national, and international development partners to continue support in terms of technical, financial, and human resources. Relevant ministries/institutions and Cambodian people must join hands to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of humanity. We do it for all of us”.

An international event

This coming international event clearly shows that Cambodia has increasingly gained international support thanks to the leadership of the Prime Minister. More than 300 national and international guests from Cambodia, UNESCO, ACC, and ICAPP, and countries across the region, will attend the ACC meeting at Sokha Siem Reap Resort and Convention Center where the Royal Message will be read by the head of ACC Secretariat, Kem Reath Viseth, Secretary of State of the Office of the Council of Ministers.

ACC’s chairwoman, Khuon Sudary, the Second Vice-Chairperson of the National Assembly of Cambodia, will deliver her remarks, followed by speeches by other dignitaries.

National and international panelists will attend the four round table discussions, including topics such as; The Emerging Multi-Conceptual World and Asian Identity, Connecting Culture and Sustainable Development, Harnessing Technology for Civilization Connectivity, and Building a Community for Common Destiny in Asia.

The ACC meeting will issue a Siem Reap Declaration concerning its work after the discussions and this will be followed by closing remarks from the Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, Minister in Charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is the honorary founding chairman of the ACC, will then deliver his remarks late afternoon tomorrow to mark the official launching of the ACC, and he will then host a gala dinner at the Elephant Terrace, Angkor, which will be attended by more than 700 guests, including the Vice-President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla, and other guests from more than 20 countries. A range of artists from more than ten countries will perform at the gala dinner to celebrate the launch of the ACC in Cambodia.

This ACC event means more than the promotion of mutual understanding and cultural exchanges, promoting unity within diversity, connecting nations among the member countries. It also sends a powerful and positive message to the outside world – through the media coverage and experiences of the guests – that the Kingdom has huge potential for growth of cultural tourism and also for investment.

Cambodia is projected to receive around 7 million tourists in 2020 with this figure growing to 14 million in 2030, said the prime minister.

Cambodia commits to defend and protect heritage

Speaking at the 25th Anniversary of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC-Angkor) in Siem Reap on December 4, 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen told the meeting that: “These are the lessons that Cambodia has learned. Cambodia will continue its partnership with international parties, and with the latter’s support we are determined to defend and protect heritages in our territory”.

“I hope that we continue our journey together for the sake of Cambodian successes, those of the region, and also internationally,” added the premier in Siem Reap where he witnessed the tripartite agreement.

“Today, we send an important message to nations in Asia and the Pacific on the issue of cultural harmonization.”

Cambodia, after nearly 30 years of civil war, has achieved full peace since the final political and military collapse of the Khmer Rouge in late 1998 thanks to the win-win policy championed by Mr Hun Sen. During Cambodia’s civil war even the country’s temples suffered as a result of international action. The prime minister went on to say: “Angkor Wat, Preah Vihear, and other temples in the country were under political punishment and embargo from outside. We should draw some lessons from this experience which is relevant not only for Cambodia but also for the world. We should not let the historical heritage of mankind be subject to the vagaries of politics.”

Cambodia’s success story

The Angkor Archaeological Park, built in the 12th century, was added to the World Heritage List in late 1992. A year later, the first Inter-Governmental Conference, the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding and Development of the Historic Site of Angkor (ICC-Angkor), was set up to protect, preserve and develop this vast cultural heritage site.

APSARA, the Cambodian management authority responsible for protecting the Angkor Archaeological Park, was established in 1995 in collaboration with the ICC-Angkor

Since the establishment of the ICC-Angkor, more than 60 temple restoration projects have been, or are being implemented in Siem Reap province, the home of Angkor, with support from 17 countries and 28 international organizations.

Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed his great appreciation to ICC-Angkor for significant achievements in the preservation and development of the Angkor site over the past two decades. Cambodia’s 1,000-year-old Preah Vihear temple was listed in July 2008.

“All projects within this mechanism require years of implementation, millions of dollars in funding and thousands of experts,” the prime minister said, while expressing his gratitude to the governments of France and Japan, and also to Unesco for agreeing to expand the scope of ICC-Angkor to another world heritage site, which is the Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk.

This third historic site, in Kampong Thom province, was listed in July 2017.

“This achievement cannot happen without peace and political stability which has enabled Cambodia to continue preserving and developing its cultural heritage, achieve socioeconomic development, and rapidly integrate itself into the regional and global arena on equal footing and with equal rights as other nations,” said the prime minister.

Prime Minister Hun Sen was also happy to announce that five of Cambodia’s Intangible Cultural Heritages were added to Unesco’s list. They are: the Royal Ballet of Cambodia on November 7, 2003, Sbek Thom, Khmer shadow theatre, on November 25, 2005, the tugging rituals and games on December 2, 2015, Chapei Dang Veng on November 30, 2016, and Lakhon Khol Wat Svay Andet, representing all other Lakhon Khols in Cambodia, was most recently added in November 2018.

Cambodia was chosen by the World Heritage Committee (WHC) to host the Committee’s 37th Session in June 2013, with the largest ever foreign delegation of more than 1,400 representatives from more than 120 countries in attendance. During the 10-day Session, the Kingdom worked with stakeholders, such as the WHC, and announced the listing of more than 20 sites, including 14 cultural ones.

Ek Tha, also known as Ek Madra, is spokesman of the Office of the Council of Ministers. He is also a spokesman for the ACC event.

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