Landowner told structures encroach on heritage land

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Yun Sokhorn is embroiled in a dispute with the Apsara Authority after it ordered him to dismantle structures on national heritage land. Photo supplied

The Apsara Authority has told Yun Sokhorn to remove a wall and a rest house from the southern part of Trapaing Hephka irrigation dike in Bos Kralanh village, Chriev commune, Siem Reap province because the structures had encroached on land designated as a national heritage.

If Sokhorn still refuses to resolve the issue by removing the illegal building after being given the latest deadline, the authority will tear down the building and consider further legal action, it warned.

In early October, Apsara Authority director-general Hang Pov sent a letter to Sokhorn asking him to remove the wall and concrete building.

“To conserve and restore the above ancient area, you have to remove the above concrete wall and building on your own by October 15, 2019. Also, you have to give notice to the Apsara Authority one week in advance before starting to implement the work as instructed above,” said Pov.

Sokhorn, who lives near the dike, had constructed a wall 2.5m high surrounding an area of 3,000sqm, as well as a resting hut.

He told The Post on Thursday that the construction of the wall had been ongoing for two years. “Asking us to destroy our property on our ancestral land will incur losses for us,” he said.

He said it was unjust for the authority to forbid him from putting up the wall when other locals who had also constructed concrete houses and villas in the same area were not given any warning.

“If they want it to be removed, [the authority] should go through court proceedings and if the court issues a verdict directing me to remove [the wall and building], then I will accept the judgement,” said Sokhorn.

The Apsara Authority considers Sokhorn’s construction to be illegal because Trapaing Hephka has been designated an ancient conservation area and placed under its care.

Hence, any encroachment, construction, digging, destroying, or change in the original shape of structures in these ancient areas without permission is a crime tantamount to destroying cultural heritage.

Department of Conservation of Temples Outside Angkor Park acting director Chhean Ratha told The Post on Thursday that although the Apsara Authority had given Sokhorn a deadline, he had failed to demolish the illegal structures.

Ratha said technical officers will report to their superiors for consideration before taking administrative measures and preparing a court case.

“We may send the case to court if he fails to cooperate. However, we will give him time although the deadline has passed. We are more lenient to citizens because [we] do not do something aggressively.”

Bos Kralanh village chief Pheach Phong said many people out of more than 20 families including Sokhorn’s had lived there since 1979.

The alleged illegally fenced area sits on Sokhorn’s ancestral land, but the government has placed the area under the supervision of Apsara Authority. Hence, Phong requested that the Apsara Authority to provide a proper solution that can be acceptable for all.

“The technical authorities are late in taking action. We just received the announcement after 2016, which showed that this area to be under conservation. But some people have lived here for a long time.

“If we apply such strict law enforcement on the poor without looking at all aspects of the case, then there will be a lack of transparency in the implementation of the law,” he said.