13.12.2012 -

Celebrating 20 Extraordinary Years—An Interview with the UNESCO Representative in Cambodia, Ms. Anne Lemaistre

@UNESCO/Chanthul Suos – Ms. Anne Lemaistre visiting the Bakong Temple with ICC-Angkor Adhoc experts in Siem Reap

On the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the inscription of Angkor on the World Heritage List, we interviewed Ms. Anne Lemaistre, UNESCO Representative in Cambodia and a Culture Expert. Since joining UNESCO in 1993, Ms. Lemaistre has been working in the field of conservation of cultural heritage in the region of South-East Asia as well as Central and Eastern Europe. In Cambodia specifically, she has been deeply involved with the International Programme for the Preservation and Development of Angkor and played a key role in the inception of the International Coordination Committee for Angkor (ICC-Angkor).

Interviewer: Could you briefly express your feeling toward Angkor?

Anne Lemaistre: I think Angkor is the memory and the pride of Cambodia.  

Interviewer: Looking back on the last 20 years of work in safeguarding Angkor, what were some of the key challenges of International Coordinating Committee for Angkor (ICC-Angkor)? 

AL: The first challenge was, when Angkor was inscribed in the World Heritage List, it was inscribed as heritage in danger, and we had to work on urgent conservation issues to safeguard Angkor. Secondly, the emergency that Cambodia faced at that time was the lack of professionals working in the field of conservation. Besides safeguarding Angkor, another main objective of ICC at that time was to transfer knowledge and to train young Cambodian people in the field of conservation and preservation of world heritage.

Interviewer: What are some of the accomplishments of ICC-Angkor?

AL: There are many accomplishments. We have now nearly 30 projects run by 16 countries. We can see there was a transfer of knowledge from international experts to Cambodian young professionals. We have now the APSARA authority, we have national legislations in place, many temples have been restored. There are more and more partnership between Cambodia the authorities and international teams, and many research is being carried out on the site. In the beginning, we were focusing more on emergency, but now we promote a culture of prevention, preventive archeology, and preventive conservation. We have made a lot of progress in the field of sustainable development. It has been the main objective of the last of decade 2003- 2013 at the site of Angkor.

Interviewer: Can you describe more about efforts towards sustainable development at Angkor?

AL: At the beginning, all the aspects of sustainable development were not so much taken in the account. In 2003, it became one of main objectives of the meeting we had with all partners of ICC. Sustainable development is everything relating to the human aspect of society and preservation of natural resources such as forest and water resource. We have established a group of Ad hoc experts specializing in sustainable development. It is now on the agenda officially: Conservation and sustainable development, so a lot of progress has been made.

Interviewer: You yourself have been involved with the ICC-Angkor since its beginning, so can you tell me a bit more about the process of inscribing Angkor?

AL: The inscription was made by the World Heritage Committee on 14 December 1992. Angkor had to fulfill a lot of the conditions in order to be inscribed. For example, we needed to have exact zoning, legislation in place, and authorities to manage the safeguarding.  At that time, APSARA was not yet created, and there were no clear mechanisms to coordinate all projects being carried out at Angkor. However, three years after the inscription, all these things were done by the Cambodian authorities. We now have a legislation in place, APSARA has been created, ICC has been created, and zoning plan has been established. In fact, a lot of things have been accomplished so far.

Interviewer: That means Angkor did not initially satisfy the criteria for the inscription as a World Heritage Site, but it was still inscribed?

AL: Because it is so exceptional. Because we knew at that time that Cambodia was just getting out from a dramatic period, so it was one year after peace agreement to show that Cambodia could count on the world to assist in the safeguarding of its heritage. The international community wanted to show its solidarity and to send a message that it was ready to assist Cambodia.  We can say that it was a kind of exceptional inscription, but nevertheless, everyone understood that it was needed.

Interviewer: What do you think the Cambodia government should do to conserve Angkor?

AL: I think there are two things to improve even though we have already made good progress so far. First, we need to strengthen the professional capacity of the young staff of APSARA to make them more professional, but some of them are already professional, but I think they should be more in terms of quantity. Second, we have to be extremely careful with the tourism management.

Interviewer: What exactly is tourism management? Is that related to limiting the number of tourists at Angkor?

AL: Tourism management does not just refer to limiting the number of tourists. What we need to do is to better manage, to better organize to meet the demands of so many tourists. As we know the number of tourists will grow in the future. It is to okay to have many tourists as long as the tourists are well managed. That means we oblige them to go there and there, and there may be a need to limit access to certain areas, for example. We are now working on a tourist management plan already with APSARA. Thanks to the support of the Australia Government.

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