The Fourth Intergovernmental Conference on Angkor at UNESCO in Paris has concluded, with King Norodom Sihamoni suggesting that UNESCO send technicians to help Cambodia with human resource training to combating the illegal trade in artefacts, and preparations for the future registration of the Kingdom’s tangible and intangible heritage.

The King attended the conference, held at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris on November 15 at the invitation of UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay, according to the November 17 press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. 

The release said that during an audience granted to Azoulay prior to the conference, the King expressed his deep gratitude to UNESCO for its close cooperation in the past, highlighting its important role in Cambodia and the success of the intergovernmental mechanism for the safeguarding and development of the historic site of Angkor (ICC-Angkor), established in 1993 following an initiative and appeal by the late King-Father Norodom Sihanouk.

The King outlined several main points of Cambodian government policy, with a focus on education and human resource development, particularly in ancestral crafts, the fight against trafficking in artefacts, preparations for future inscriptions of Cambodia’s tangible and intangible heritage, as well as the establishment of a legal framework to preserve the value of Angkor and combat climate change. 

He invited UNESCO to send its experts to Cambodia to provide support and cooperation in these activities. He also welcomed the renewal of the mandate of the ICC in its current form for another ten years.

The King also lauded the decision by Prime Minister Hun Manet to prioritise education and vocational training as part of its Pentagonal Strategy, and called on UNESCO to contribute to the creation of new training programmes.

In his keynote address in the opening of the Intergovernmental Conference, the King expressed his gratitude to the French and Japanese co-chairs and to the other members of ICC-Angkor, particularly Germany, China, South Korea, India, Italy, the US and the UK, for setting a model of effective multilateral cooperation.

Azoulay welcomed the King’s human resource training request and committed to further strengthening cooperation in various fields to promote the values of the heritage of humanity, protect local communities, maintain a balance of tourist flow through rigorous management, and preserve the sacred values of the Angkor temples and other heritage sites.

The French embassy in Cambodia tweeted on November 16, saying that the ICC-Angkor was an example of multilateralism as a way to protect heritage. France has co-chaired the ICC with Japan for the past 30 years. The mandate of both countries has been renewed for a 4th decade.

The embassy said that since 1993, France’s support in cooperation with Cambodia has enabled the restoration of two major monuments: the Baphuon temple-mountain and the Western Mebon temple (restoration in progress), heritage training for hundreds of professionals and the development of archaeological research. 

King Norodom Sihamoni addresses the ICC-Angkor Conference in Paris on November 15. Simona-Mirela Miculescu

Speaking at the conference on November 15, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona said that Cambodia has made a lot of progress in terms of the preservation of the Angkor Archaeological Park, and will continue with its work.

She warned that Angkor currently faces several challenges, including climate change, which poses serious consequences. Scientists are in agreement that it may lead to serious natural and societal imbalances.

“We must do our best to preserve water and plant cover as best as we can in the Angkor forest and in the historical barays. Nature and culture are intimately linked at the unique and wonderful sites which have been on the UNESCO heritage list since 1992, and which we have looked after for the past 30 years,” she said. 

Director-general of the APSARA National Authority (ANA) Hang Peou also addressed the conference. He highlighted preservation efforts in the Angkor Archaeological Park, especially the relocation of people deemed to have settled there “illegally” to the Run Ta Ek and Peak Sneng areas.

He said the ICC co-chairs (Japan and France) had visited both relocation sites.

“Not all of the people in the 112 villages of the Angkor area were relocated, but those who had settled illegally were moved,” he said.

“As you can see here, there is a market built for the population,” he said, while presenting an image of the Run Ta Ek development area. 

Ambassador of Japan Atsushi Ueno, said that as ICC co-chair, his government is committed to continue working with its French counterparts and the Cambodian government to preserve Angkor and Sambor Prei Kuk, with a focus on capacity building for preservation.

Jacques Pellet, ambassador of France, explained that for the next decade, the ICC will focus on human capital and sustainable development. 

“Sustainable development means local communities should be fully involved in the project. I think that during this decade which begins today, it will be possible to resolve all of the concerns that have been expressed about the resettlement of some of the local population. This is the real issue, and I would like to thank the authority for the steps they are taking,” he said. 

Pellet also commended that in the future, it would be of great importance to have local community representatives attend the meeting, especially regarding resettlement and preservation work.

During his visit to France – which occurred on the 70th anniversary of the independence of Cambodia – the King also visited the Pierrefitte site, the French National Archive, where he examined the personal archives of the late king, Norodom Sihanouk, according to the French embassy.