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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Potential abundant but needs high in the "remote" northeast

Potential abundant but needs high in the "remote" northeast

BOU SRA, MONDULKIRI - With the roaring sound of a cascading waterfall behind him,

Governor Chum Chheang briefed visitors about the rich potential of his isolated province.

Gold, precious stones, abundant forests, wildlife and, especially, the hidden beauty

of Bou Sra waterfall - all these natural resources led the governor to claim proudly

that Mondulkiri was the third most important tourist site after Angkor and Sihanoukville.

Chheang wants to see the backwater image of his province lifted, but at present is

overwhelmed by worries about food deficiency that threaten Mondulkiri's population.

"We are facing food shortage. Usually, up to 4,000 tons of rice are needed to

feed the people all year round. But more than 1,000 of last season's crop was damaged

by bugs," Chheang told the Post.

Requests for assistance have been made to the government, the Cambodian Red Cross

and the World Food Program, but his pleas have yet to engender any response, he said.

Home to ten ethnic groups with varying traditions and languages, the province has

a population of 27,000 people. But nearly 90 percent of them, according to the governor,

are plagued by malaria, while malnutrition is also a threat which adds to the routine

concern over food security.

During a visit to the province by First Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh, ministers

and diplomats on Jan 13, Chheang called for help to bring foreign investment to his

poverty-stricken province.

"Investment will increase food which has never been sufficient here. Most of

the population don't know what else to be occupied in, except [slash-and-burn rice]

farming," Chheang said.

Chheang argues that investment opportunities are numerous including:

  • An agricultural area in Koh Nhek district, 100 km north of the provincial capital

    Sen Monorom. The district has 30,000 ha of free land for rice production, vegetables

    and secondary crops.

  • Agro-industrial areas which covers 300,000 ha of land suitable for rubber plantations,

    coffee, pepper, and manioc.

  • Eco-tourism due to the rich cultures and traditions of the hill-tribes, forests,

    wildlife and, especially, the waterfall in Bou Sra.

  • Gold mining, gems and precious stones in Keo Seima and Pechrada districts.

However, while the existence of rich natural resources remains undisputed, Mondulkiri

is unlikely to be transformed quickly without improvement of basic infrastructure.

"The province has the potential, but they have to fix the road first,"

said a diplomat who went on the trip.

Situated 543 km northeast of Phnom Penh, the province seems more like a land unto

itself rather than part of the Kingdom. During the rainy season, it is cut off from

the rest of the country - going there is only possible by plane or by road through

Vietnam.

Although the road is dry now, the trip to Sen Monorom still takes up to 18 hours.

To get to Bou Sra waterfall - 40 km from the provincial capital - takes another two

hours on a back-breaking, rutted, rocky road gouged by heavy rains.

"We can not talk about real sustainable development without talking about the

development of roads," Prince Ranariddh said during the briefing given after

a dance performed by hilltribes and a picnic at the waterfall.

He told diplomats the purpose of the trip was to demonstrate that the Royal Government

cared about the country's eastern part which has suffered from long neglect.

"I don't see any need to have a 20-story hotel here," the Prince said while

pointing to the waterfall.

If a hydropower plant is built, other government officials said the waterfall could

produce 7-8 megawatts of electricity. However, they said studies were being conducted

on other locations where smaller sized hydropower plants would be constructed.

While resources appear abundant, even reliable, 24-hour electricity seems a distant

prospect in this isolated province.

Public Works Minister Ing Kieth said work on refurbishing the provincial road to

connect with Route 7 in Kratie province would start "soon".

But the project won't be finished until July 1998, after which further difficult

tasks will have to be confronted.

"Nothing substantial has been done by the Royal Government to help the province.

It is money that is the main question," Chheang said.

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