SKorean company gets contract for Angkor airport

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia has awarded a contract to a South Korean property developer to build a new international airport to serve the famous Angkor Wat temple complex, an official said Wednesday.

Chea Vuthy, a spokesman for the Cambodian Development Council, a government agency that oversees investment, said Lees A&A Co. will build the $1 billion airport in Siem Reap province. He said the Cabinet approved the project in October. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said construction would begin by the end of next year, with the first phase due to be completed in 2015.

The airport will be 36 miles (60 kilometers) east of Angkor, Siem Reap provincial officials said. Cambodia hosted 2.3 million visitors this year, with about half of them visiting the temples, according to Kong Sophearak, statistics director for the Tourism Ministry. There is concern that the temples at Angkor, already damaged by warfare, looting and the ravages of weather, could be harmed by a further influx of tourists.

In October the U.S.-based Global Heritage Fund listed Angkor as one of more than 200 global heritage sites “facing irreversible loss and damage today.” Visitors climbing over the ruins are causing “heavy deterioration of original Khmer stonework,” it warned in a report, adding that nearby hotels and restaurants are sapping the region’s aquifer, causing some of the temples’ towers to sink into the ground. Yonhap said an expansion of the airport planned for 2032 would bring its capacity to about 15.5 million passengers annually.

It cited the Korean company as saying it was negotiating with prospective investors to provide $500 million to finance the first phase of the project. Chea Vuthy was unable to confirm the details. However, the Phnom Penh Post reported earlier that the contract had been awarded to NSIA Co., a joint venture of Lees A&A and Camco Airport, another South Korean company. The newspaper quoted Siem Reap province Deputy Gov. Bun Tharith as saying the contract would be in the form of a build-operate-transfer agreement, which would eventually turn over control of the airport to the government.

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