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SIEM REAP, Cambodia – While most visitors to the awesome “Pyramids of Asia” housed at Angkor Wat are inspired by the historical site, looters increasingly are pillaging the ancient structures in hopes of making a few bucks off stolen artifacts.
Angkor was built between the eighth and 13th centuries by perhaps a million slaves, says Pran, WorldNetDaily’s guide through the temple complex in Northern Cambodia. It is a Hindu structure whose main temples are constructed to be reminders of the universe. Water flowing in the surrounding hillsides of Angkor Wat represents the Ganges River in India.
“The flow of history and culture from India, across Burma and into Indochina is an epic saga of history,” Pran said.
“Pol Pot’s henchmen took out monasteries, but left the main structures at Angkor Wat as they were.”
Angkor Wat, say authorities, was preserved from looters since the 1970s in part by the land mines that served as de facto protectors of the site.
Says one U.N. official, “When the European Union and the Cambodians began clearing the mines, it also opened the gates for the looters.”
Philip Hawke, a Canadian English teacher working in Japan came to Angkor Wat to photograph the complex. He speaks of it with awe and respect, as do most Westerners.
“It’s worth all the expense and effort,” he told WND. “I hope that authorities can control the looting and preserve Angkor Wat for future generations.”
Hawke’s hope is echoed by Belgian Geert Caboor, who owns and runs the Red Piano, a charming, colonial-style hotel in Siem Reap.
“You can see how this town is growing by leaps and bounds,” Caboor said. “There are huge luxury hotels being built, e-mail cafes and all the trappings of civilization.”
Caboor proudly pointed to photos on the wall of Angelina Jolie and him.
88 demons are depicted at the “Sea of Churning Milk.”
“Actress Angelina Jolie came to the Red Piano while filming “Tomb Raider,” which further served to promote Angkor Wat. The tourism industry needs Angkor Wat to be free of looting so it can grow and thrive.”
Caboor pointed out that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries on Earth, along with Afghanistan, Haiti and Laos.
Protecting Angkor Wat is no easy task, although it is a World Heritage Site, armed with over 300 “heritage police” trained by the French, the former colonial rulers. French intelligence and the French Foreign Legion also work with Cambodian officials to protect the site from would-be looters. A representative of Apsara, the Cambodian management organ for the Siem Reap area, explained to WorldNetDaily how the World Heritage Site process works during a tour of the faces of Bayon and the giant roots of Ta Prom.
“Cambodia joined the World Heritage Convention by promising to do its utmost to protect its cultural genesis,” the official said. “It is a long process, which contains treaties and formal declarations. The World Heritage Center in Paris must be informed of all plans Cambodia has in place to preserve the sites. The World Conservation Union and the International Council on Monuments and Sites will review the entire proposal and advise the World Heritage body of how to proceed. Various experts are consulted and finally, a formal plan is hopefully approved. International funding and training are then dispensed to the applying nation.”
Weather and time have taken their toll on the detailed pictographs at Angkor Wat.
WorldNetDaily, guided by Pran and a group of Cambodian army soldiers, toured Angkor Wat and another site at Banteay Srei, northwest of Siem Reap.
The road to Banteay Srei is unpaved and choked with dust. En route, WND encountered groups of children walking to school, land mine victims, soldiers and animal life. Locals rode on bicycles with fruits attached on the back, or on mopeds – sometimes as many as five on a small scooter. Most Cambodians sport karmas, the red checkered scarves used as protection from the hot sun by day or from the cold at night.
“Banteay Srei is being restored from years of neglect,” Pran explained. “It was used by ancient Angkor kings as a hiding place during times of social upheaval.”
Pran told of a group of looters who had been eying various statues of the Buddha, who is often depicted as being “enlightened” under the hood of a cobra snake.
“This group of looters was, fortunately, foiled in their attempts to steal from our cultural heritage,” Pran said.
“However, other looters are frighteningly successful.”
Pran’s statement is borne out by the fact that Angkor loot can be bought at various shops in Bangkok and around Thailand.
“It’s a terrible shame,” he lamented. “But if we all work together, both Europeans and Asians can save Angkor Wat for our children’s sakes.”