Unesco visits Battambang in heritage site bid

Pech Sotheary and Chea Vannak / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Cambodia’s long history and the architecture that defines it are in the spotlight again as officials from the UN cultural body Unesco visit Battambang city at the request of the government which is seeking world heritage listing for the area.

A Unesco delegation yesterday conducted a study of Battambang city after the government asked the organisation to recognise it as a world heritage site.
Ministers last month asked Unesco to classify Battambang, Kratie and Kampot as world heritage cities, as part of efforts to preserve traditional Khmer and French-colonial architecture.
The delegation conducted its assessment as Cambodia prepared to host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and Unesco conference today and tomorrow. 
Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Battambang is the first of the three cities to be visited by Unesco officials. 
“The tour is aimed at studying the heritage of the city based on its historical and cultural buildings,” Mr Khon said. “It is intended to help protect the city and provide us with recommendations to prepare Battambang as a Unesco world heritage site.”
He added that heritage listings for Battambang, Kratie and Kampot will help diversify tourism in Cambodia. 
According to Mr Khon, about 70 percent of tourists visit historical and cultural tourism sites, particularly the country’s iconic Angkor Archaeological Park. 
Addressing a meeting ahead of the conference, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday welcomed the prospect of the Unesco listings, but said the need for preservation and development must be carefully balanced. 
“As in many cities, old buildings are often state-owned. It is necessary to preserve and protect them, but we can’t keep the whole city from being developed,” Mr Hun Sen said. 
“In Phnom Penh, hundreds of houses and building were kept for preservation, but those buildings were about to collapse and people were in need of new houses.” 
Mr Hun Sen argued the public complained when too little development work was done. 
“In Phnom Penh in the past, there was a stage when the authorities wanted to keep hundreds of houses for conservation. At that time, people were screaming out for homes. I went to see areas where buildings were collapsing. 
“I had to speak frankly with the municipal governor. We cannot prioritise preservation without thinking about development, or think only about development and not conservation.” 
Sia Phearum, executive director of the Housing Rights Task Force, backed Mr Hun Sen and cited the example of Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building as an old property that needed to be developed and could not be preserved.  
Anne Lemaistre, Unesco’s representative to Cambodia, said cultural heritage cities will boost tourism in the country. 
“Culture is a spirit of a city,” she said. “Tourism can be a protective tool for preserving heritage.
“Battambang, Kampot, and Kratie are rich in beautiful scenery, pagodas and heritage sites which can attract millions of tourists.”

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