Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — UNESCO Representative to Việt Nam Michael Croft yesterday revealed to local media that the office intends to coordinate with Vietnamese government agencies to further push dialogue on tourism development, particularly with regard to the preservation of heritage sites.
UNESCO also aims to open dialogues relating to tourism development with the private sector and relevant local authorities.
“In principle, UNESCO absolutely does not oppose development activities,” Croft said in an interview on UNESCO’s reactions to recent violations to the Tràng An heritage site in northern province of Ninh Bình. “But the question here is what is being developed and how said development is being undertaken.”
Earlier this year the Tràng An Tourism Joint Stock Company cut into Cái Hạ Mountain and constructed a staircase leading up to Huyền Vũ Peak. The staircase measures over 1km in length, with 2,000 steps and a handrail. The company also constructed supporting facilities like public toilets.
The Tràng An Landscape Complex was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site on June 23, 2014, and as such the construction of the staircase leading to the peak was deemed illegal.
The complex - a mix of cultural relics and natural landscapes - covers more than 6,000ha. Among the most visited sites in the area is the Hoa Lư Ancient Imperial Capital – chosen by various kings between 968-1009.
Other popular sites are the Tràng An – Tam Cốc – Bích Động rivers, the Karst mountain site, and the Hoa Lư Primitive Forest which stretches over the districts of Hoa Lư, Gia Viễn, Nho Quan, as well as Tam Hiệp Town and Ninh Bình City in Ninh Bình Province.
Croft was highly appreciative of the culture ministry and other concerned agencies’ swift decision to halt the violation, as well as their ordering of the company to reverse the construction with great care so as not to harm the heritage site.
The deconstruction process kicked off last week and is planned to be completed in the next month.
“UNESCO experts visited the site in mid March,” he said, “The issue has been addressed at the necessary level.”
“UNESCO is waiting for the judgement of the provincial authorities, which will be announced in the next few weeks,” he said. “Then we will know clearly the situation on the site.”
However, according to UNESCO’s observation, the construction was initiated with pre-processed [simple] materials, which means the effects may not reach the most serious level.
Such incidents demonstrated that UNESCO’s co-operation with the Ministry of Culture to raise people’s awareness on protecting heritage was very important, he said. The media, public and enterprises must be aware of the notions of a heritage site, as well as its core area, buffer zones, and the appropriate regulations that must be followed in various circumstances.
The incident also demonstrates the conflict between mass urbanisation and development, and preservation efforts.
“We must define a means to develop in harmony with preservation, in which tourism services and development activities can be implemented in a sustainable, well directed way,” he said.
Croft suggested raising the competence of local heritage management boards. He noted that the Tràng An Heritage Management Board examined the construction site four times and reported to higher level agencies, yet their proposals were not replied to in a proper or timely manner.
“UNESCO strongly believes that private companies will play an active role in supporting the preservation and protection of world heritage sites under the close guidance of State agencies,” he said.
Violations such as the one in Ninh Bình are not rare in the country.
Earlier this year, a local company in the southern province of An Giang had to unload a near complete construction of a 20m-high statue of a goddess on the peak of Sam Mountain.
The illegal construction was opposed by locals, as in their legends the goddess the statue was depicting generally stays at the foot of the mountain, where there was already a statue of the goddess, making a second one unnecessary.
“It’s not as small as a needle so that nobody can see,” said researcher Nguyễn Văn Huy, “I’m sure that the local authorities and concerned agencies know all such cases, but they ignore them because perhaps the cases involve someone, or some powerful bodies that they’d rather not have to deal with.”
“I think all that cases can be treated properly if our law is clear, powerful and implemented seriously,” he said.
Such violations like the one in Tràng An carry a fine with a ceiling level of VNĐ80 million (US$3,500).
“The fine is not strong enough to discourage perpetrators from constructing projects that seriously harm heritage sites,” said Nguyễn Văn Thới, a local in Ninh Bình Province.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism organises examination trips to each heritage site in the first quarter of the year, following the Decision on Managing World Heritage and Nature Sites. This however, is not enough, and has resulted in many violations being discovered and treated, particularly later in the year.
“We are consulting the Government and the National Assembly to enhance the management of tasks, and define clear and relevant responsibilities for agencies of different levels,” said Đặng Thị Bích Liên, Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, “Any cases involving violations will be dealt with seriously to preserve the heritage sites original condition.” — VNS