kompong cham town – Construction of the first bridge across Cambodia’s stretch of the Mekong River officially got underway Wednesday with a ground-breaking ceremony at the construction site.
The bridge, funded by a $56 million grant from the Japanese government, will connect Kompong Cham town with Tonle Bet, 125 km northeast of Phnom Penh. When completed, the bridge should allow direct overland transport across the river for the first time in Cambodia.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and Japanese Ambassador Masaki Saito applauded the construction, saying the bridge would boost economic development in Cambodia, especially in the northeastern provinces that now are hindered by the split of the country’s land by the river.
“Socio-economic development in Cambodia was hindered by poor infrastructure,” Hun Sen told hundreds of guests at the ground-breaking ceremony. “[The bridge] is very beneficial to the country to open up social and economic development into northeastern provinces” with their numerous rubber plantations.
The prime minister predicted that the bridge could bring at least half a million people to resettle in the northeastern provinces.
The bridge, which has been under construction since November, is to be 1,360 meters long and 12.2 meters wide with a navigational clearance of 15 meters at high-water level. The project also includes construction of 2.2 km of approach road.
The bridge will be linked to Routes 6, 6A and 7, all of which have been rehabilitated with Japanese aid. It is expected to complete in March 2002.
“The completion of this bridge…is going to link those three main roads together and to enable direct overland transportation to both Vietnam and Laos,” Saito said before pushing a button with Hun Sen to officially start moving construction equipment.
The Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the Japanese government are major donors for the rehabilitation of national road projects, the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation said.
Currently, the two banks are considering loan packages on some sections of Routes 5, 6 and 7. Cambodia needs to find a donor for the rehabilitation of about 200 km of Route 7 from Kratie to the Laos border, the ministry said.
Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun this week reported that construction of the bridge might be suspended because the Cambodian government has asked two construction companies—Taisei Corporation and Sumitomo Construction—to pay the 10 percent value-added tax.
Concerned officials on the project denied the report. “All import for the project is tax-free,” Public Works Minister Khy Taing Lim said.
Japanese officials also confirmed that the agreement includes a provision that the grant project is exempt from all internal taxes and levies.