ONGOING conservation efforts at the dilapidated Banteay Chhmar temple complex in northwestern Banteay Meanchey province have received a substantial boost in the form of a site-preservation grant from the Archeological Institute of America (AIA), the organisation announced.
Heritage Watch, the grant recipient, is a partner of the Global Heritage Fund, which launched restoration efforts in 2008 in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and several other NGOs.
In a press release, the AIA said: “With new road improvements, the site is expected to become a major tourist attraction for those travelling from Thailand to Cambodia’s major archaeological attraction, Angkor Wat,” making it essential to advance conservation efforts quickly, as well as to establish community-based enterprises that “protect the site, rather than destroy it”.
Conservationists also fear that the road improvements, particularly National Highway 6 linking Siem Reap with Poipet, will accelerate the looting of Banteay Chhmar. The temple’s proximity to Thailand means that antiquities can disappear undetected into the jungles across the border.
The Angkor-period temples have already lost a number of significant features, including six of the eight massive bas-reliefs depicting Buddhist divinity Avalokitesvara.
Ok Sophon, director general of heritage at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and head of the ministry’s efforts at Banteay Chhmar,
acknowledged that the looting issue was grounded in the relationship of the temple and its surrounding communities.
Despite increased security, Ok Sophon said, his team found 100 holes around the site dug by hopeful antiquities hunters. On one occasion, police tracked down five men seen taking material from the site.
“We went around to the villages in the area and people knew who they were. When we found them, we explained that this was wrong and told them that if they were caught again it would be jail,” he said.
The exact figure for the AIA grant was unavailable on Tuesday, but the maximum award offered under the institute’s Site Preservation Grant is US$25,000 over the course of one to three years.