Tears Forever, Angkor Wat, And Ruinous
By Chea Chheang, Cambodia News Agency, Cambodia
Keothida Sisane, Lao News Agency,
The tears were still well in his eyes today at the memory of 20 staff
he could not save in 1975 from the savagery of the Khmer
Bangkok AP Bureau Chief Denis Gray, then the head of the
Associated Press Phnom Penh Office, had offered his staff and their
families safe haven in Thailand as the Khmer Rouge occupied Phnom Penh,
but all chose to stay. The killing fields era followed.
message from a staff member reached Gray in Bangkok: “I’m alone in the
office; I’m trembling; this is my last dispatch for today, maybe
While Gray could not save his staff, the memory of their
tragic fate is etched in the sandstone of his mind. It is perhaps partly
the reason today that he is so fervently interested in saving historic
Angkor Wat from the savage onslaught of tourism.
He owes it
to his former staff members.
Gray, a co-president of the
Indochina Media Memorial Foundation [IMMF], recently told a class of 16
journalists from the region that developers planned to build five illegal
hotels and a golf course near the World Heritage site.
veteran of reporting from more wars than he would like to remember, has
written many stories under a Cambodia dateline. He noted the ancient
temples of Angkor have survived the ravages of nature, war, and the Khmer
Rouge revolutionaries. They have stood for centuries as an isolated oasis
of austere beauty. But will they survive tourism?
He recalled that
all Cambodian governments, including the Sihanouk, Lon Nol, and Khmer
Rouge under Pol Pot, Heng Samrin, and FUNCINPEC, have used the traditional
symbol of Angkor on their flags.
Kim Chhai Hieng, deputy director of the
Tourist Office in Siem Reap, the sleepy " river runs through it "
town adjacent to the vast temple complex, said the hotels and golf course
project would be completed in 1997. He added that in two to three years,
Siem Reap would be a very developed place. Businessmen are pouring
A high-ranking Cambodian official, Vann Mollyvann, who heads a
conservationist group called "Apsara", name of the semi-mythical Hindu
dancers that served the desires of the great Khmer kings, said that under
the government’s charter, he must approve all hotel construction in Siem
Reap. He added that he had not received any documents on the five
In the wake of the new UN-monitored coalition government in
Cambodia in 1993, visiting foreign tourists have been on the increase, and
Angkor is a prime attraction despite occasional incidents by "bandits" and
the Khmer Rouge.
Last year, 70,000 adventurous foreigners visited
Angkor – compared to 565 in 1986.
During the Heng Samrin government
(1979-1989), the restoration of Angkor was sponsored largely by the Indian
government. But, last year, on behalf of UNESCO, some temples in the
60-square-kilometer Angkor area were restored by Japan and
Gray, Czech by birth, admits to being partial where
Angkor Wat is concerned. He will do his best to preserve the historic
monuments, both in his memory and in reality.