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Unfinished dream revisited

Unfinished dream revisited

F OR Koji Kanzaki, the engineering plans for the Prek Thnot dam in Kompong Speu lying

open on his desk represent 27 years of frustration.

The general manager of Japan's Maeda company was the youngest surveyor in Maeda's

75-strong Cambodian team working on the dam in 1969, as the country began crumbling

around them.

Kanzaki had five personal armed guards when he visited the site back then, supervising

the construction of four small dams, and the main six-kilometer long dam that make

up the Prek Thnot project. "The sub-station and two of the small dams were almost

completed when we were told in 1973 that the project was suspended," Kanzaki

said. "From where I was, I could see fighting everyday."

Khy Taing Lim, the present vice-chair of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee

was the one who wrote to Maeda saying the project couldn't proceed because of the

war. For Kanzaki and Taing Lim, Prek Thnot has been a distraction, an unfinished

dream that only now, as stability and investment slowly return, can they revisit.

Taing Lim often thumps 30 or 35-year-old engineering plans and dam studies lying

in his office: "We've done all this before! We can build Prek Thnot tomorrow."

Maeda left behind, in today's terms, $20 million worth of turbines, generators, heavy

equipment, rock-crushing plants, cranes and mixing plants in various warehouses in

Phnom Penh. Kanzaki spent 14 years away from Cambodia, always believing that he would

return.

That happened in 1987. Kanzaki, again with soldiers guarding him, immediately went

back to Prek Thnot. "It was destroyed, and I was sad about that, very sad. It

had gone back to jungle.

"There were people living there of course, on the river. But they didn't sompheah

like before, they didn't smile, or talk. I took presents, pens and notebooks, toys,

but they just left them lying there, they didn't touch them."

Much of Maeda's equipment was still in storage. The Khmer Rouge seemed to have destroyed

some of it; there were bits of machinery and huge, concrete "gate rings"

scattered around fields, with grass growing up and around them. More had disappeared,

but it looked almost random: a PABX telephone system was destroyed, but a new generator

hadn't been touched. The rock crushing plant was still at the weir site a few kilometers

from the main dam but five years later, in 1992 when Maeda officially reopened its

office, that had gone.

"My personal priority is Prek Thnot," Kanzaki says, though Maeda, which

has around $8 million invested in Cambodia already, is "in the market"

for all major infrastructure jobs.

"I'd like to see the Prek Thnot contract go again to Maeda, though the Government

might put it to tender," he says.

"I would like to complete Prek Thnot before my retirement."

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