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Ancient Angkor Temple of Cambodia back to life

North Korean painters revive Angkor Temple.

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  • Paintings of Angkorian Empire by North Korean painters have been exhibited at the Angkor Panorama Museum near Angkor Wat temple
  • North Korea spent $24 million and four years building the nearly 6,000-square-meter museum, which rises to an imposing height of 35 meters.
  • The museum was built in the spirit of cultural promotion, friendship and cooperation rather than income generation.
  • There is some controversy as to why North Korea would be interested in such a project.

The Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia gets a museum for itself due to North Korean investors. North Korea decided to build a museum for the Angkor Wat temple which would have painters from North Korea depicting the trees, plants and huts in a three-dimensional way. It has murals depicting thousands of warriors and artisans at war and work in the Angkorian Empire. Here is a story from VOA:

Welcome to North Korea’s Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a joint venture between the Cambodian government and North Korea’s long-established Mansudae Art Studio,open since December.

The mural, which took 63 painters from North Korea’s most famous school of political artistry two years to complete, is so captivating that some visitors quietly question its authenticity, wondering aloud if it isn’t some sly video projection.

 

“Amazing! I can see everything…just sitting here in one place you can see everything,” said Keo Samoun of Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province.  Viewing the art after a stop at Angkor Wat and Bayon Temple, she said the museum helps place the temples in a historical landscape.  “It’s easier to visit the museum than some of the far-flung temples dotting the province,” she added.

“I have never seen anyone paint anything like this,” said Thoam Manun Tho, a Buddhist monk. “Amazing. Absolutely amazing!” he exclaimed, violating museum decorum by loudly invoking one of the viewing platform’s most commonly overhead refrains.

In the Angkor era

Known for doing things on a vast scale, Mansudae was founded in 1959 to extol the revolutionary virtues of North Korea and its ruling family.

“With a labor force of approximately 4,000 people, 1,000 of which [are] artists, and an area of over 120,000 square meters, 80,000 of which are indoor, the Mansudae Art Studio is probably the largest art production center in the world and by far the largest and most important of the country,” the Pyongyang-based studio’s website says.

Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons
Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons

Part of Mansudae’s overseas expansion, a bid to raise foreign capital for the isolated regime of Kim Jong-un, the Angkor Panorama Museum offers a Socialist-Realist glimpse back to a time when Khmer warriors battled with spears, swords and huge fighting elephants. The empire also built stunning temples, now UNESCO World Heritage sites.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3W__Ks89Y9U

“[Visitors] feel as if they are right there during the Angkor era,” Yit Chandaroat, museum vice executive director, told VOA Khmer. “They feel as if they are with the people selling vegetables [or] those on the fighting elephants in the painting.”

A visit to the museum should precede tours of the nearby temples, Chandaroat said, as more than 40,000 images of ancient warriors, artisans, farmers and animals help place those structures in a richer historical context.

Ticket sales and nuclear weapons

North Korea spent $24 million and four years building the nearly 6,000-square-meter museum, which rises to an imposing height of 35 meters.

Pyongyang’s decision to invest in Siem Reap was an act of fraternity between old friends, Chandaroat said.  According to the contract, North Korea would completely reclaim its $24 million investment over a 10-year period.

Carvings from Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons
Carvings from Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons

At least, that was the plan. The 10-year recovery period for the initial investment was recently deemed too ambitious, and North Korea is not likely to see its original investment returned until the second 10-year contract, said Chandaroat, who is also a senior official at the Cambodian government entity managing the Angkor Archeological Park.

The museum and its painted panorama are slated to become fully owned by Cambodia under the agreement within 20 years.

Chandaroat denies links between museum ticket sales and funding for North Korean weapons of mass destruction.

Thai Norak Sathya, Secretary of State for Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, says the museum was built in the spirit of cultural promotion, friendship and cooperation rather than income generation.

“The North Korean company came to build the museum because of historical relations of the king with the country,” Thai Norak Sathya told VOA. “Let me tell you that the North Korean company completely abides by the technical condition and Khmer style of art. So, it is not the nature of this business to generate income.”

Foreign visitors turn up their noses

For now, one of the profitability issues facing museum officials is that 90 percent of visitors are Cambodian. Foreign tourists, who bring much needed hard currency to Siem Reap’s economy, have been prone to dismiss the museum.

English tourists Sarah and Ashley say they’ve traveled too far just to see a mere painting of the Angkor temples.

“I am quite surprised that they invested so much outside North Korea,” said Sarah, who only gave her first name.

“I want to see the real things. That is what I am here for,” Ashley added. “That is what we are going to do today. I am not interested to go to the museum.”

 

“I am not aware of what’s inside,” Christelle Bimar, a French tourist said, sitting in a wheelchair in the shade of a palm tree in front of Angkor temple. She was unaware of the panorama museum but had already visited the Angkor Wat temple despite of her left leg broken. “But, yes, I think Angkor and Siem Reap deserve to have many more museums,” she added.

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Human Rights in Cambodia Concludes on Note: Peace Without Justice is Unsustainable

I think there are a number of areas which the government is working towards in basic human rights, and there are a number of areas that I have identified and discussed with the government to vet human rights and also to increase in hand the number of indicators and targets and plans for meeting the development goals.

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UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith (L) speaks to reporters at a press conference in Phnom Penh, May 9, 2019. RFA

Rhona Smith, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, concluded her seventh visit to the Southeast Asian nation on Thursday with a list of recommendations for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government of ways to improve human rights and make the country’s political space more inclusive. She advised the government to identify those most at risk of being left behind by development efforts, called for protections of the right to peaceful assembly and association, and urged authorities to avoid excessive use of force in the policing of assemblies. Smith also called for the release of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha from detention, where he has been held while under investigation for “treason,” general legal reforms to ensure that all Cambodians have access to justice, and a greater operating space for civil society.

Despite her comprehensive investigation into the situation of human rights in Cambodia, government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed her recommendations as politically motivated, calling the fate of Kem Sokha a matter of the court and suggesting that NGOs in the country are “serving political purposes.” Smith spoke to RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday about her visit and discussed how the country’s government can better safeguard rights for all Cambodians.

RFA: My first question is about your impression or observation regarding the [request] to visit Kem Sokha. Would you have any kind of statement to make regarding this again?

Smith: I regret that I was unable to get permission in order to go and meet with … Kem Sokha and the investigating judge was not able to meet with me either.

RFA: What would be your purpose of visiting him, should you be allowed to meet him?

Smith: I’m an independent expert appointed by the human rights council. I should be able to meet with persons in detention anywhere in Cambodia.

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I welcome some of the indications of openness and willingness, for example, to engage with civil society to try to address access to justice and to redress some of the problems I’ve identified with corruption and bribery. Pixabay

RFA: Do you think that Kem Sokha will be released any time soon?

Smith: In my view, Kem Sokha remains under detention and I’ve called upon the government and, indeed, the investigating judge to express my hope that Kem Sokha’s investigation is swiftly completed. It’s now been more than 18 months and either the trial can proceed or if there’s no … evidence for a trial, then the charges against him are definitively dropped.

RFA: Recently during your visit, the Battambang Court issued at least 26 warrants for 26 CNRP officials to appear before the court regarding their political activities. Do you think this is a breach of human rights in Cambodia amid your visit?

Smith: I believe it’s indicative of the lack of political space in Cambodia and I have concerns in that regard. And it is my hope that there will be a new opening for political culture in Cambodia based on dialogue and mutual respect.

RFA: Regarding these CNRP officials, of course, after the CNRP dissolution in late 2017, and also the reallocation of the seats of those elected commune councilors—5,007 commune councilors had to relinquish their positions to the ruling party and other parties—have you seen any progress in the democratic space in Cambodia since your last visit?

Smith: I see no tangible changes to the political space in Cambodia since my last visit.

RFA: In your last report in August, you made several recommendations—a lot of which concerned the freedom and human rights situation. During this visit, have you noticed any significant change or improvement based on those recommendations?

Smith: In most of the government meetings I have had, the government minister has taken time to update me on the changes that have been made since my last visit in their area of responsibility and also on responses to my recommendations.

RFA: So are you satisfied or, at least, what is your impression regarding these responses?

Smith: I think that there has been improvement in some areas of human rights in Cambodia since my last visit, and I welcome some of the indications of openness and willingness, for example, to engage with civil society to try to address access to justice and to redress some of the problems I’ve identified with corruption and bribery.

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If they work on pursuing the development goals, that will help embed human rights principles and provide targets and indicators that could be ambitious for the government to work towards and, in doing so, that would strengthen human rights … for everyone. Pixabay

RFA: Back to what you have indicated, time and again, that peace and prosperity are in line with human rights, respect and democracy. Do you still maintain this position?

Smith: Yes, it is still my view that peace without justice is unsustainable and development without freedoms will risk leaving people behind.

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RFA: What would be your call for the government of Cambodia to do now, based on what you feel are the priorities during this visit?

Smith: That’s a difficult question to answer. I think there are a number of areas which the government is working towards in basic human rights, and there are a number of areas that I have identified and discussed with the government to vet human rights and also to increase in hand the number of indicators and targets and plans for meeting the development goals. If they work on pursuing the development goals, that will help embed human rights principles and provide targets and indicators that could be ambitious for the government to work towards and, in doing so, that would strengthen human rights … for everyone. (RFA)