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Japan first in Cambodia to bridge the Mekong

Japan first in Cambodia to bridge the Mekong

JAPAN looks set to erect the first bridge across the Mekong river in Cambodia.

Kompong Cham, located about 40kms northeast of Phnom Penh, has been chosen over the

southeastern ferry-town of Neak Loeung as the site for a 1.36 km concrete bridge,

which will span the great river by 2001, according to the Japan International Cooperation

Agency (JICA).

If all goes to plan, and pending official approval by Tokyo and Phnom Penh, construction

would get underway by the end of 1997, said Hiroshi Enomoto, JICA's assistant resident

representative.

"The decision on whether to go ahead with the project will be taken by the beginning

of the next Japanese fiscal year which starts in March 1997," he said. "If

all stays on track, I am optimistic construction will start by the end of next year."

Enomoto would not disclose the projected costs of the Mekong River Bridge which is

still in the planning stages.

A two-year feasibility study was completed in May, and the finalized plans should

be presented for approval by Tokyo sometime after mid-October, said Akira Kaneko

a Japanese advisor to the Cambodian Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

"The results of the basic design study need to be discussed in Cabinet meetings

before any official decision can be made," he said.

Japan, the most generous of Cambodia's international aid donors, is keen to finish

first in the race to make the most of its economic potential.

For Tokyo, which will pump $91 million into Cambodia next year, Cambodia is strategically

placed at the heart of the Mekong basin which it sees as vital if Southeast Asia

is to keep booming.

In Kaneko's opinion, it is essential for Cambodia's future growth to rehabilitate

and develop its two-lane road network. In his view, Kompong Cham is indispensable

to this.

"Kompong Cham is the gateway to Laos and the northeastern provinces of Cambodia,"

he said. "And after we have solved the problem of security and rehabilitation

in the northwest, Kompong Cham will be the crossroads in Cambodia for international

transport throughout the Mekong basin."

Kaneko stressed how important a road network is to the undeveloped northeast and

to the overall future of the nation.

"At present, the main way to reach the northeast is by plane," he said.

"Every capital should be connected to its outlying provinces by road."

Kaneko said he foresaw a Cambodia in "several years" time where freight

landing at Sihanoukville could easily be shipped overland to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh

City or Vientiane.

He also ventured to explain why Kompong Cham, located upstream from the port of Phnom

Penh, had been chosen over Neak Loeung, which, ideally located on Route National

One, connects Phnom Penh directly with Ho Chi Minh.

"Neak Loeung is an excellent location for a bridge, but ships carrying 5000

dead-weight tonnes would have to pass under it," he said. "To build a higher

bridge so that ships could clear it would be more costly and would take more time."

Responding to criticism that Japan's aim behind the future bridge is to use it as

a monument to its philanthropy to lesser nations, Enomoto replied that Japan, like

other donor nations, is trying to enhance its image abroad, but that the long-term

benefits to Cambodia had been carefully weighed.

"If Japan only makes monuments which serve no purpose, it is a waste of money,"

Enomoto said. "The Japanese Diet, the national press and public opinion - the

taxpayers, I mean - would not stand for it."

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