The Apsara Authority is a government sponsored agency in Cambodia responsible for management and protection of Angkor Archaeological Park. That sounds like a fair and noble cause and to some point it is, however being part of the most corrupt government in the world, it comes as no surprise that Apsara Authority would be as corrupt and twisted as the people who created it.
On their website autoriteapsara.org, the Apsara Authority describes its purpose and agenda as follows:
The government has created APSARA, the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap, in charge of research, protection and conservation of cultural heritage, as well as urban and tourist development. This legislative and institutional framework marks the beginning of a new active role Cambodia will take, responding to the call of her own people in the voice of her King, as well as to that of the international community, in managing Angkor as a national and world heritage for the generations to come.
On the History and Organization page, the text on the website states that Apsara Authority is responsible for:
- Protecting, maintaining, conserving and improving the value of the archaeological park, the culture, the environment and the history of the Angkor region as defined on the World Heritage List.
- Refining and applying the master plan on tourist development according to the five zones, defined in 1994 in the Royal Decree on the protection and management of Siemreap-Angkor and taking action against deforestation, illegal territory occupation as well as anarchy activities in Siemreap-Angkor.
- Finding financial sources and investments.
- Participating in the policy of cutting down poverty of the Royal Government in Siemreap-Angkor.
- Cooperating with the Cambodian Development Council on the investments of all the projects that are involved with APSARA Authority’s mission.
- Cooperating with ministries, institutions, funds, national and international communities as well as international governmental institutions and non-governmental organization on all projects related to APSARA Authority.
There are some truly dubious statements in the description of their responsibilities and by looking at past actions of Apsara Authority throughout the Siem Reap area one can come to conclusions what they likely mean.
The first alarming statement can be seen in the introductory sentence where it is mentioned that Apsara Authority was created “for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap” – and the region of Siem Reap? Why does Apsara Authority want to spread their jurisdiction outside of the Angkor Archaeological Park? If their purpose is to preserve and protect the ancient temples of Angkor, than why stick fingers in villages outside of Angkor?
Another even more dubious statement is one you have certainly already noticed – anarchy activities. What in the name of Buddha are anarchy activities? Has this phrase purposefully been forced into the list of Apsarta Authority responsibilities so they have their asses covered no matter what they do? Past actions of the agency show us that it truly could be so.
From the reports of people living in touristy areas as well as from articles published in the Phnom Penh Post it is evident that large groups of Apsara Authority officials have been going around villages in the Siem Reap province, threatening the villagers at gunpoint that if they modernize their houses or build something new on their land, they will be evicted without recourse. If any of the villagers voices against unlawful eviction, they are simply told that their actions are perceived as “anarchy activities” and are henceforth removed from the land that their predecessors lived on for centuries. They are subsequently moved to a tiny piece of land that was assigned to them in lieu of their coveted location. Their new land is in the middle of nowhere, in the district where they have no friends or family to rely on. That is what Apsara Authority refers to when they say “anarchy activities”.
Apparently, for as long as the villagers keep their original, “traditional” houses – aka wooden, thatched barns on stilts – and don’t try to modernize them, they should be fine. I have my own theory why they insist on people living in prehistoric houses that are falling apart:
It has everything to do with foreign donations coming in massive chunks to Cambodia. In order for the financial support from abroad to continuously grow, foreigner must be exposed to villagers who look poor, live in atrocious conditions with houses falling apart around them. If there were any signs of improvement of conditions in which regular folk live, foreign donations could diminish. Given lack of transparency throughout Cambodia along with the most corrupt government in the world, any money coming to Cambodia, regardless of who it is intended for, eventually ends up in the hands of the ruling elite while impoverished, underprivileged citizens get nothing. However they are a good bait for foreign donations so it is absolutely essential for the government to ensure that people remain poor and look poor. At least those who live in the areas where foreigners go.