Minister of Transport Says He Knows Little About Railway Project

The minister of transport, who on Monday watched over the signing of a deal between two Chinese companies to build a 400-km railway, yesterday said the government has minimal knowledge of the project.

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An illustration shows the Chinese company Cambodia Iron and Steel Mining Industry Group’s plans for a 14-square-kilometer steel mill in Preah Vihear province’s Rovieng district. (Simon Lewis/The Cambodia Daily)

Cambodia Iron and Steel Mining Industry Group and China Railway Group signed a memorandum of understanding to build an iron mill in Preah Vihear province, a new seaport in Koh Kong province and a railway connecting the two, for a total cost of $9.6 billion.

Government officials from affected provinces and other ministries have referred questions about the project to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

Transport Minister Tram Iv Tek said, however, that he did not know a great deal about the project.

“I don’t know what the companies will do. Let’s wait and see all together,” Mr. Iv Tek said. “If they can really do it, it will help Cambodia’s economy a lot.”

“Just 10 percent of the project is already big, it’s $1 billion,” he added.

It is unclear exactly where the railway will be built, how land will be procured and how many people will be displaced by the project.

Environment Minister Mok Mareth said on Tuesday that an environmental impact assessment has not yet been submitted for the project, on which work is due to begin in July.

At the Tuol Kok district office of the Cambodia Iron and Steel Mining Industry Group yesterday, a secretary said company officials had gone back to China until after Chinese New Year, in February.

A Chinese man in military fatigues, bearing no insignia, milled around at the office building, which also houses a block of apartments bearing the sign “Cambodia Iron Group Apartment.”

A rudimentary plan for the steel mill, superimposed upon a picture of a forested area, sat on the wall of the company’s office.

According to the Preah Vihear provincial industry, mines and energy office, the company currently holds a license to explore for iron ore, but not to dig a mine.

In May 2007, the Associated Press reported from Shanghai that four giant state-owned Chinese steel firms—Wuhan Iron and Steel, Baosteel Group, Anshan Iron and Steel Group and Shougang Iron and Steel—had joined to explore for iron ore in Preah Vihear to address China’s lack of control over its steel supply.

Cambodia Iron and Steel Mining Industry Group chairman Zhang Chuan Li said on Monday that the company was backed by four major steel firms in China.

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