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Japanese Bridge to Get A New Lease on Life

Japanese Bridge to Get A New Lease on Life

One of Phnom Penh's most prominent land-marks-the broken bridge spanning the Tonle

Sap-will be rebuilt with the next three years, thanks to the generosity of the Japanese

government.

Under an agreement signed here late last month by Prince Norodom Sihanouk and Japanese

Ambassador to the Supreme National Council Yukio Imagawa, Tokyo has pledged grant

aid of U.S. $23 million to repair the Chroy Changwar bridge.

Khmer Rouge and communist Vietnamese sappers sent the central spans of the bridge

crashing into the river as they retreated from a fierce firefight with Lon Nol troops

in late 1972.

A French diplomat who was in Phnom Penh at the time said, "It took three days

to remove all the bodies."

Lon Nol troops, and later on Vietnamese and Phnom Penh government soldiers, were

forced to use the time-consuming Prek Kdam ferry crossing to reinforce posts against

Khmer Rouge attacks in the countryside.

However, Tokyo's gift should see reconstruction work on the key 709-meter-long gateway

to central and northern Cambodia start in December, with construction completed by

March 1994.

Imagawa said his government was also considering repairing Route 6A, which leads

from the bridge to the important crossroads town of Skoun, where it meets the strategic

Highway Six linking Phnom Penh to Kompong Thom, Siem Reap and Sisophon.

"This bridge is of very great economic, social and strategic importance for

the defense and building up of an independent and prosperous Cambodia," said

Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who commissioned the 1960-63 construction of the crossing

by Japan's Taisei Construction Co.

Several Japanese construction and engineering companies are interested in the project

and have sent technical teams to Phnom Penh in recent weeks, Japanese diplomats said.

The three central spans will have to be replaced along with two reinforced concrete

piers in the middle of the river.

The government-run Japan International Cooperation Agency is handling bidding, while

speculators have been snapping up property on the Chroy Changwar side of the river

in expectations of a boom once the bridge and Route 6A are complete.

In the meantime food and drink vendors have been capitalizing on the impressive vantage

points from the bridge by setting up stalls there for weekend passersby.

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