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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bridge leaving homeowners in troubled waters

Bridge leaving homeowners in troubled waters

KAMPONG CHAM - Home owners who have been forced to sell out because their houses

are in the path of the first bridge across the Mekong in Cambodia say they have been

short-changed by the provincial authorities.

Nearly 200 houses and four government buildings have been cleared to make way for

the bridge.

Bun Eng, the director of the province's public works department, said while Japanese

aid will pay for building the bridge the government is having to pay $1.2 million

for the houses in its way.

However property owners are upset at the way the money has been handed out. Some

say that they were given much less than had been promised.

One owner, 58-year-old landlady Khem Lang, said she was initially told that she would

get $7,000 for her house, but she only got $4,000. And she complained that the money

was paid in riel at an exchange rate of 3,400 to the dollar, when the market exchange

rate was 3,900. She said the provincial authorities told her that Khmer should use

Khmer currency.

"On their list I got $4,000 but the exact amount I got was just over $3,000,"

she said.

The discrepancy between the compensation and the amount needed to buy land in a similar

area means that she and the others may have to move further out of town. None of

them wants to do that.

"I don't want to stay outside town because I want all my children to study in

the good town school. If I go to live in the rural area my children will only have

two days of school per week," she said.

Other property owners have similar stories - Leng Ho, 55, said she was told she would

get $10,000 for her house but two weeks later was told it would only be worth $7,000

- and paid eventually in riel at an unfavorable rate.

The mother of one house owner who did not want to be named said that her son's house

was a big villa and he got $18,000, but again, paid in riel.

Many homeowners were having their houses dismantled and re-built elsewhere but the

woman said some did not bother moving, instead they sold their homes as they stood

for as little as $1,000.

Bun said that the government paid in riel because that was the Khmer currency.

He acknowledged the difference in rates between the bank and the market but "that

was unavoidable".

He also realized the houses would be damaged when they were moved but he said there

would be no extra compensation.

Preparation work for the bridge - which will be the first on the Mekong south of

the Laos/Thai Friendship Bridge in Vientiane - was begun last year, with house clearing

and initial road building. The bridge is due to cost $56 million, and the rehabilitation

of Routes 6 and 7 another $31.9 million. The bridge will be 1,360m long, 12.2m wide

and 15m high from the water. It is due to be finished around 2002 - 42 months' work

- but, as pointed out by the Japanese donors, aid has been suspended following the

July coup.

A spokesman for the Japanese Embassy said that in general their money would go only

on building the bridge. All other costs, such as social compensations, would be the

responsibility of the government. He said aid money was never paid to the authorities

for such projects. Instead it went to the contractor when the project was finished.



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