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Is Klungkung Tourism Suffering from Tunnel Vision?

Nyoman Gunarsa Calls on Bali Officials to Preserve and Develop WWII Japanese Caves in Klungkung Regency.

(11/6/2010) Recent proposals to close and destroy a network of WWII vintage caves built by Japanese forces in the Klungkung regency of Bali is earning protests and rejections from various sources in Bali.

Among those calling for the preservation and upgrading of the long-neglected caves is world-famous painter and art curator, Nyoman Gunarsa, who told DenPost that the suggestion to abandon the caves is misguided.

Gunarsa sees the Japanese caves as worthy of preservation and development due to their high historical value. Moreover, the man who founded and operates a successful art museum in Klungkung said he is more than willing to manage and promote the cave complex if entrusted to do so by the government.

He said government officials proposing the elimination of the caves understand little about history and culture. He said the caves were built with the sweat and tears of "romusha" or wartime "slave laborers" enlisted during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. Expressing his disbelief at those even suggesting a closure of the caves carved into the limestone walls of Klungkung's hillsides, Gunarsa says: "Other areas of Bali, such as Ubud, are seeking places to promote as tourism attractions. How is that Klungkung, which has such historical sites, wants to destroy them?"

Gunarsa said the current condition of the caves and its past development has somehow gotten off course. Citing one example, Gunarsa questions the placement of a giant Ganesha statue near the caves' entrance which, he believes, has no connection with Japanese war-time site, saying the statue should be destroyed and removed.

Gunarsa's vision is that workshops and art shops sharing a theme with Japanese culture and history be constructed near the caves. He even sees the revitalization of the caves as an opportunity to build a sister-city relationship between the Balinese community of Semarapura and Kyoto in Japan. Developing the concept further, Gunarsa proposes a statue at the entrance to the cave memorializing the Balinese who built the caves and the installation of carved reliefs telling the story of the cave's construction.

The caves which were built as defense against allied forces air attacks in 1941 is comprised of tens of 4-meter deep caves with many interconnected by another tunnel running north to south.