THE government has decided to begin reconstruction of the road from Anlong Veng to
Preah Vihear. The decision is said to be motivated by the wish to attract more tourists
to the 10th century Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border.
Residents in Anlong Veng still have the means to travel over rough roads but they would be happier if the government would provide them with easier access to Samrong.
For years the temple remained inaccessible from the Cambodian side of the border.
Khmer Rouge troops held the territory around Preah Vihear until they defected in
April 1998 and the temple was once again opened to tourists last year.
Work on the 60 kilometer long stretch of road is due to begin as soon as the dry
season sets in later this year. The reconstruction of the road that also includes
a lot of mine clearance will be carried out by military engineers.
Meanwhile, local authorities in the former KR stronghold Anlong Veng are eager to
see work begin on a completely different road: the muddy, mine-strewn dirt trail
that leads from Anlong Veng to Samrong. During the rainy season it often takes up
to two days to travel the 74 kilometer stretch.
However, it may be a while before people from Anlong Veng will be able to travel
easily to meet their provincial superiors. Oddar Meanchey province and the government
has a number of road projects scheduled for the not too distant future, but Anlong
Veng-Samrong is not one of them.
Two months ago, military engineers finished work on National Route 67 from Siem Reap
to Anlong Veng. Together with an open border crossing at Preah Vihear and a new Anlong
Veng-Preah Vihear road, the government also hopes to attract more Thai tourists to
the Angkorian temples around Siem Reap.
But with the on-set of the rainy season, the unpaved National Route 67 is already
plagued by numerous potholes and mud pools. Engineer troops still camp out along
the road in order to take care of maintenance.
Prime Minister Hun Sen was scheduled to visit Anlong Veng at an inauguration ceremony
for the new road in Anlong Veng sometime between July 15 and 20, but the ceremony
was postponed due to heavy rain.
Third Deputy Governor in Oddar Meanchey, Yim Thin, recently visited Anlong Veng in
order to organize the ceremony. According to him the next stretches of road to be
reconstructed includes the Preah Vihear-Anlong Veng road, National Route 68 to Chongkal
and National Route 69, which runs along the border. The Anlong Veng-Samrong road
is so far not even on the list of priorities.
"The prime minister has promised that work can begin on National Route 68 as
soon as the road between Sisophon and Siem Reap has been repaired. We cannot say
anything about when we can start on the Anlong Veng-Samrong road," Thin said.
Nevertheless, provincial authorities have already made preliminary surveys of the
Anlong Veng-Samrong road.
Currently there are two routes between the two towns. The old original road that
hasn't been used since sometime in the 1980's when it was almost completely destroyed
by fighting. Running parallel a few kilometers to the south is a newer road, constructed
on the orders of KR top leader Ta Mok.
"Right now we prefer to repair the original road, since it has access to many
more villages along the border. But certain stretches of it are extremely heavily
mined and the mines are buried very far underground so it is very difficult to clear
them," says Thin.
According to him a preliminary study showed that it would cost $150,000 to repair
the road, excluding the cost to build bridges. Provincial authorities have approached
a couple of humanitarian organizations in an attempt to raise money for the project,
but no financial solution seems to be within reach.
However, the road to Samrong is of far greater importance to Anlong Veng than the
road to Preah Vihear. In November last year a fact-finding team from the Cambodian
Center for Conflict Resolution (CCCR) visited a number of old KR zones in order to
investigate how well former KR communities are reintegrated into Cambodian society.
In a subsequent report, CCCR among other things pointed to the importance of good
access road and contact to provincial authorities.
In terms of travel time, the Samrong provincial authorities are today as far away
from Anlong Veng as Siem Reap is from Phnom Penh.
Second Deputy District Chief in Anlong Veng, Dom Chhuny, explains the importance
of the Samrong road:
"We need the road to bring the administration and the legal system to Anlong
Veng. It is a question of exchange of human resources. Also the road will mean that
we will get more trade, because it will be easier for people from Samrong to come
to Anlong Veng," says Chhuny.
As for the tourists, Chhuny suggest that it would be a better idea to open the border
check point at Choam on the Dangrek escarpment a few kilometers north of Anlong Veng.
"Preah Vihear is very far away from Siem Reap. I think Choam will be much better
for the tourists," says Chhuny.