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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Prey Veng bridge set to grow trade with Vietnam

Prey Veng bridge set to grow trade with Vietnam

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The Japanese government  is behind the US$70 million project to increase land links in Asean and stimulate trade in the region

Tracey Shelton

Passengers on the Neak Leung ferry on the Mekong. The ferry will become a thing of the past if a new bridge plan goes through.

CAMBODIA and Japan will accelerate construction of a new bridge over the Mekong River under a more than US$70 million project to improve Asean road links by 2011, public works officials told the Post Monday.

Touch Chankosal, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, said construction of the 2,200-metre bridge - connecting Kandal and Prey Veng provinces - will begin in 2011 if Japanese and Cambodian officials complete their preliminary studies.

"We are currently working with [Japan] to prepare a detailed study of affected areas, traffic flows, the environmental and social impact [of the project] and economic growth potential," Touch Chankosal said.

He added this was the third in a series of studies to assess the impact of the bridge project.

"Our partner is focusing on the costs of construction, while we are working on mine clearing and compensation fees for local people affected by the project," he said.

Touch Chankosal said the bridge was part of a strategy to improve trade between Cambodia and its Asean neighbours.

"We have worked for three years to build this bridge, and it will be completed by 2014 if all goes smoothly," he said. A Cambodian official involved with the project, and who refused to be named, said Monday the grant project was first proposed to Japan in 2001 and that initial studies in 2004-06 pinned the cost at $74 million.

"The recent study shows that past estimates do not account for the high price of construction materials, so the grant will be higher," he said.

He said Japanese advisers have conducted careful studies of affected areas and initial results look positive, but added the project remained conditional on limiting the negative impact on local communities.

Pol Sittha, an official at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said the bridge's primary economic impact would be to improve national trade by providing a better conduit to markets in Vietnam and elsewhere, but that local residents would benefit as well.

Estimates do not ACCOUNT for the high price of construction materials.

"Once the bridge is completed, we will have more opportunities with our Asean neighbours, but it will also ease traffic and improve transport across the river," Pol Sittha said.

Touch Chankosal said Cambodian officials are waiting for results from the latest impact study, which he expected some time in November.

"Now, we can't do anything but wait," he said.

Seng Choun, a provincial public works officials with the Neak Leung ferry that runs cargo and passengers across from Kandal province, said the new bridge would have a substantial impact on the local economy.

"The ferry takes more time to cross the river, especially during national holidays," he said. "Also, the ferry prices have not gone up even though petroleum prices continue to rise."

He said the new bridge would open up the provinces to increased overland trade with Vietnam. "This bridge will connect the West Mekong in Kandal province to the East Mekong in Prey Veng along National Road 1 leading to Svay Rieng and Vietnam," Seng Choun said.

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