New Bridge Closes as Holidaymakers Head Home

Some Khmer New Year holidaymakers heading back to Phnom Penh this weekend were forced to wait hours to cross the Mekong River by ferry thanks to the closure of Kandal province’s Prek Tamak Bridge on Friday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a five-day opening of the unfinished bridge on April 12 to ease traffic congestion during the exodus from Phnom Penh that accompanies the holidays each year. With the three-day holiday ending Friday and many returning home on Sunday, however, the bridge’s closure came just as travelers were making their way back.

Muk Kampol district police chief Koang Siphal said six ferries were plying the Mekong at the crossing to help ease the bottleneck.

“There is a congestion when people come back and they have to wait for the ferry because there are too many people,” said Mr Siphal, who estimated the average wait was under two hours.

Hem Yan, director of public order at the Interior Ministry, said Friday that the number of accidents over the holiday would likely be lower than in 2009, when the government reported 52 traffic fatalities, as figures from the first few days already showed a decline. He said yesterday he was too busy to provide an update.

Handicap International, which helps manage a road accident database, has yet to compile its figures for the holiday. But, Sem Panhavuth, program manager for the NGO’s road crash and victims information system, said Khmer New Year numbers would likely surpass those of 2009, given that January’s numbers were about 10 percent higher than those for the same month last year.

Handicap International reported 89 traffic fatalities during the holiday last year. Mr Panhavuth said the group’s numbers vary from the government’s because it collects data from both the traffic police and hospitals and because it includes the two days before and after the official New Year, when holiday-induced traffic is often highest.

  (Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)


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