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
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
"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
"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."