After 35 Years, World Monuments Fund Transfers Management of Angkor Sites to Cambodia

The World Monuments Fund (WMF) has transferred management of three protected sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park to Cambodia’s Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor (APSARA), effective January 31.

APSARA now oversees conservation efforts and long-term projects formerly managed by WMF, many of which are dedicated to the preservation of the ancient heritage sites.

“This transition is a historic moment for Angkor,” Bénédicte de Montlaur, president and chief executive of WMF, said in a statement. “At the beginning of this project in 1989, international intervention was necessary to help redevelop the conservation skills of local technicians in order to carry out necessary work. Over the years, reliance on international expertise has declined significantly across WMF projects at Angkor, and we are delighted to see Apsara reclaim full responsibility for day-to-day maintenance and future conservation work at these three sites.”

Angkor, located in Cambodia’s northern province of Siem Reap, is home to the Ta Som and Preah Khan Temples, the Churning of the Ocean of Milk Gallery, as well as lush forests, dating to the 9th and 15th centuries. UNESCO has deemed it one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia, and it was inscribed as a world heritage site in 1992.

However, efforts to preserve the precious relics were imperiled by the Cambodian Civil War of the 1970s, when many heritage workers were killed in the fighting or forced to flee overseas. During the Khmer Rouge regime, antiquities looting skyrocketed at Angkor, with scores of its treasures trafficked out of the country.

In recent years, the Cambodian government has launched a determined campaign to reclaim its looted cultural items from museums. Last year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York returned 14 sculptures to Cambodia that were associated with the disgraced art dealer Douglas Latchford.

APSARA was established in 1995 and has since brought significant improvements to the care and preservation of the region; in 2004, it was removed from the list of endangered heritage sites.

“Our impact has gone beyond physical conservation work conducted over 35 years,” De Montlaur said during a ceremony at Preah Khan Temple on January 26, as quoted by the Art Newspaper. “Our capacity-building work has provided skills, income and stability to the local team, which is now led by a majoritarian Cambodian leadership team. We also have developed tourism management strategies to enrich the visitor experience and prevent the harms of overtourism to the sites. WMF’s work will continue at the Archaeological Park with the restoration of Phnom Bakheng and the creation of new education programmes in cooperation with the Cambodian authorities.”

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