A BLUEPRINT has been laid for linking all of Indochina through new roads, railways,
water and air transport.
Thirty-three transport projects are on the drawing board of the Greater Mekong Subregion
transport forum, sponsored by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The plan is dependent on the cooperation of Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand
Though the history of such cooperation is poor, the experts involved in the projects
"Progress is being made," said ADB's Programs Department West director
Noritada Morita, at the second meeting of the forum held recently in Phnom Penh.
The top priority of the six road development projects is that of a highway linking
Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City and the Vietnamese port of Vung Tau.
The final feasibility study has been completed and construction was likely to begin
by 1997, said an official at Cambodia's Ministry of Planning.
The 568 kilometer Cambodian leg of the 1,000 kilometer long highway is expected to
cost about $200 million if it is to be of international standard.
The Cambodian Government - wary of security concerns on its eastern border - will
concentrate on the Phnom Penh-Ho Chi Minh route first.
The travelling time by road between the two cities will be cut to about three hours.
The construction now being done between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville - with United
States funding - will eventually form part of a continuous highway between Kunming,
China through Laos to southern Cambodia. Japanese aid is rehabilitating some parts
of the northern-bound road to Laos.
According to documents from the ADB-sponsored forum's meeting, the ADB is now looking
at "the possibility of financial support" from both itself and other donors
for the Bangkok-Phnom Penh-Ho Chi Minh highway.
"A study of the Thai-Laos-Vietnam east-west corridor is underway under the auspices
of the French Technical Assistance fund," according to the documents.
"Detailed study for developing a masterplan for improving Cambodia's international
airports will soon be completed under the auspices... of the ADB."
It said that loans had recently been approved to Laos for its part of the Laos-Cambodian
One of the biggest issues holding back cooperation between the six riparian countries
is their lack of common structures on customs and immigration regulations.
With only a few exceptions, motor vehicles are not allowed to cross Indochinese borders
and examples are many where goods have been delayed for days at check points.
Taxes and extortions are commonly imposed on shippers along the Mekong river.
"Governments are called upon to adopt necessary rules, regulations and agreements
to facilitate the use of [this] infrastructure," Morita told officials. She
said it would improve their economies and the viability of developments.
However, an official with the Ministry of Public Works in Phnom Penh admitted the
reforms were "quite difficult".
All Mekong neighbors would have to set up seperate border agreements. Hanoi and Phnom
Penh, and Bangkok and Vientiane were holding talks to resolve this, the ministry
At the meeting, all countries - for the first time - agreed to standardize custom
and immigration regulations.
This would ensure a trade zone with open borders and free movement of goods and people
across borders. They also agreed to try bringing traffic signs and rules up to international
Morita applauded Cambodia for its enthusiasm shown at the forum.