kompong trach district, Kampot province – Only a decade ago, the road from Kompong Trach town to the Preak Chak border checkpoint was smooth and passable. Villagers, farmers and Untac soldiers stationed here could move easily from the border area to the rest of the province.
Now the road is a chewed-up mess, filled with truck-deep potholes and thick mud. Motorcycles stacked with as much as 100 kg of goods take hours to negotiate the 16 km road to and from Kompong Trach town.
As a result, most of the approximately 10,000 residents of Russei Srok commune depend on a stall market on the other side of the Vietnam border for much of their small business trade, rather than markets in Kampot and Kompong Trach towns, commune chief Thai Sarik said last month.
“The road conditions make it very difficult for the villagers here. It affects the trade and increases prices,” he said.
Preak Chak is one of about 10 border checkpoints set up along the Vietnam border.
At this checkpoint, local officials have agreed that Cambodians and Vietnamese may cross back and forth freely. And more than 100 Cambodians go to Ha Tien on the other side of the border each day to sell and buy fish, crabs, rice, fruits, vegetables, charcoal, sugar and other household items, Cambodian border official Pen Khem said.
Ly Sou, who until last month was Kampot provincial governor, said he has made requests to the Ministry of Transportation to improve the road to Kompong Trach, as well as to rebuild the road from Kep to the border.
That road, he said, would be very important to provincial trade if it were in use.
But war and lack of government funding has kept the road to Kep out of commission since the early 1970s.
Both roads were destroyed by rain, heavy trucks and a lack of maintenance, Thai Sarik said.
Ly Sou said he has also made a request to the Ministry of Interior to open up Preak Chak as an international border crossing.
“Vietnam wants to open it up. And Kampot could attract more tourists coming from Vietnam this way,” said Ly Sou. “We are losing money. The villagers cannot go to Kampot town to buy things, so they go to Vietnam.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that his government will put a special focus during the next few years on building new roads and improving old roads.
But even if the government doesn’t feel that the road from Kompong Trach to the border is an immediate priority, there is one private businessman who has offered to rebuild it, Ly Sou said. That would vastly improve the living conditions and the financial well-being of residents, he said.
“If the government plans to rebuild the road, then we will all be very happy,” said Yeam Vanna, a 29-year-old fruit and vegetable seller. “We’ve just spent two hours coming from Kompong Trach.”
(Additional reporting by Matt Reed)