Hor Namhong Asks for More Cash for Rail Project

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong made another appeal to Australia for additional funds to complete a behind-schedule project to rehabilitate the country’s railway network, this time to newly appointed Australian Ambassador Alison Burrows, according to a ministry spokesman.

While work on the Southern Line of the railway, from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville’s seaport, is nearly completed, the project’s $141.6 million budget—most of which was provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB)—is not enough to complete repairs on the northern section of the rail line. An additional $75 million to $125 million is needed to finish the project and connect the line between Phnom Penh and Poipet City on the Thai border.

“His Excellency the Deputy Prime Minister [Mr. Namhong] made a request to the Australian government that it consider with the ADB to provide financing to rehabilitate the railway from Phnom Penh to Poipet because now trade between Cambodia and Thailand is increasing dramatically,” ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told reporters after the minister met with Ms. Burrows, who presented her credentials to King Norodom Sihamoni on May 30.

“Her Excellency Alison said that Australia was paying much attention to the railway because it can help to benefit the Cambodian people,” he said. Mr. Namhong made the same request to a visiting Australian government official in February.

The railway network, once rehabilitated, is expected to help reduce commercial transportation costs, lower consumer prices and make the country more attractive to outside investors.

But local housing rights groups, supported by an independent assessment of the rail rehabilitation project commissioned by the ADB, have repeatedly criticized both Australia and the ADB for not doing enough to mitigate the economic impact on the hundreds of poor families being evicted from their homes to make way for the project.

Mr. Kuong said the minister also invited Australia to send observers to monitor the country’s July 28 national election and complained about a statement the U.S. State Department issued Saturday criticizing the National Assembly for recently expelling 27 opposition lawmakers.

“Our government, especially the National Assembly, always respects and implements the laws of the National Assembly, and I appeal to every embassy in Cambodia to not interfere in the internal affairs of Cambodia because Cambodia is a democratic country,” he said.

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