Major International Airport Considered for Cambodia

PHNOM PENH -- Cambodia said Sunday it is considering the construction of a new international airport at Siem Reap, the gateway town to the Angkor Wat temple complex, to cope with rising tourism.

Tourism is one of the destitute kingdom's few money spinners, and the government has been keen to boost the number of arrivals here, aiming for one million in 2004.

Mao Hasvanall, secretary of state for civil aviation, told AFP three possible sites for the airport near the northwestern town were being assessed by a Japanese company.

"The government's policy is to plan towards building a big new airport in accordance with international standards," he said, adding a longer runway was needed to handle bigger planes.

He said the airport needed to be shifted further away from World Heritage-listed Angkor Wat rather than just extended because vibrations from heavier jets would damage the fragile temples.

Hasvanall said no start date for the project had been named.

While Angkor Wat is Cambodia's tourism jewel, the government wants to encourage tourists to visit elsewhere in the kingdom and announced plans last month to launch a new national carrier.

A new airport opened in the beachside resort of Sihanoukville this year but scheduled flights have not begun.