Monday, March 9, 2009

Comments at Rehabilitation Project of the Cambodian Railway between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh and Poi Pet, Banteay Mean Chey provinc

18 February 08

I am so glad to join with all of you and HE Harahiko Kuroda, President of the Asian Development bank (ADB) in this official and joyful event today to rehabilitate the Cambodian two direction Railways - Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville, which is to the south-west, and Phnom Penh - Poi Pet, which is to the northwest of Cambodia. It is indeed a great day after the tragedy in 1970s. It has been a long time that the two lines of Cambodian railways have not been an interest for anyone, during which period the Cambodian seaports, airports, rubber plantations and other companies like Telecom have all been attracting investors.

As I have mentioned earlier I compared the Cambodian railway to a bride awaits for a long time to be asked for an engagement. But because some make-ups have been initiated, we have now come to her wedding party. Because of her poor condition, it has been hard indeed to solicit investment consensus. Thanks to helps provided by ADB and some countries, we have now expression of interests to invest in the railway sector from countries like Belgium, France and Australia.

Thanks to the efforts made by the Ministry of Public Works and Transports as well as related institutions so that this event is possible today, I would also share equal appreciation to the efforts of the local authorities of Banteay Mean Chey province as well as de-mining engineering teams to get the site free of dangers from UXOs and mines.

I would like to take this occasion to specially thank ADB for its help in this first project of railway in Cambodia in addition to various projects it has contributed ranging from roads, airports, electricity, hydrology, etc. OPEC has also made similar contribution to the project of this kind. I would also thank the Government of Malaysia for providing Cambodia some 4,200 tons of rails, which is equal to 106 kilometers railway at the cost of about two million US dollars.

Indeed, it has taken Malaysia two Prime Ministers to get the rails to Cambodia. In 2002, when Cambodian hosted the ASEAN meeting, Dr, Mohadhir bin Mohammed informed Cambodia, as well as the whole ASEAN Summit of Malaysia's intention to do so. IN 2006 when I attended the ASEM Summit in Helsinki, Finland, we also had a meeting among related countries - like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. HE Prime Minister Badawi of Malaysia with the consensus of the group agreed to send the rail to Cambodia via Thailand.

Therefore I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Royal Government of Thailand for providing assistance in allowing shipment of the rails from Malaysia through Thailand to its border with Cambodia. This decision was promised by the former Prime Minister of Thailand and thereafter implemented by the successive Prime Minister Chulanand. It has been a good thing that despite some political development in the afro mentioned countries the project has been implemented without disruption. This could be said that there is a consensus among the countries members of the Greater Mekong Sub-region and ASEAN on the issue of railways in this area.

The development has also been seen through by two Presidents of ADB, except in Cambodia, it is still Hun Sen, because the people voted for me. Take for instance in Banteay Mean Chey province, the Cambodian People's Party has won four out of six seats. I think CPP will score another electoral victory because people know that they vote for CPP, Hun Sen will continue to be Prime Minister.

Indeed, as is said by HE Kuroda and HE Sun Chanthol, Minister for Public Works and Transports that we should give our respect to the vision of the previous leaders. Cambodia was under the French colony in between 1929 and 1942. The country's leaders had constructed some 386 kilometers of railroads and what we have to give higher consideration is the fact that in between 1960 and 1969, the road between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville was constructed under Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk who was the Cambodian head of state at the time. We should think of the source of water that we drink. It was because of Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, who took the throne in 1941, that there was this possibility to modernize the country's railway in 1960s.

The railway in Cambodia that was built in those days had been considered the most advanced that every Cambodian was proud of. Some of the people who had the chance to take part in that important project are still alive - take for instance HE Keat Chhon, HE Ing Kiet, HE Va Kimhong and some other officials. The war in 1970s pushed Cambodia backward for about 70 years if we compare our rails to those of other countries. When the war started, the 48 kilometer section of the rail between Serei Sophoan and Poi Pet was destructed.

If I am not mistaken, between 1979 and 1996 usable rails in the southwest and in the northwest also were destructed. At the time Melai and Pailin reintegrated with the country and when Gen. Keo Pung led his force to integrate with the Royal Government from the area of Oral region, a number of our rails between Phnom Penh and Sihanouk had been safer from ambushes. However, we had an incident in 1994 at Phnom Voar, which took the lives of three backpackers who is French, Australian, and British.

After the forces on the northern side of the national road 6 and those inside the region of Oral, Taken Koh Sla and other places in Banteay Mean Chey, Melai, Phnom Proek, Sampeo Loun, Pailin, Samlot, Mong Russei, Phnom Dhibadei, such destruction had come to a stop. It is not the rail that is wrong here. It is the politics that is causing such destruction. Thanks to the win-win policy that we now have come together to witness the rehabilitation of the railways. Though it is not as modern as in other countries, we have put back in operation the rails that the war had stopped them.

The rails between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville take 48 kilometers and between Phnom Penh and Poi Pet take 338 kilometers, both of which cost a total of US$ 73 millions, whereas ADB contributed US$ 42 millions,, OPEC - US$ 13 millions, Malaysia US$ 2.8 millions and the Cambodian Royal Government covers as its counterpart fund of US$ 15.2 millions. There is also money to cover the transportation of rails from Thailand's border with Malaysia to its border with Cambodia.

I can say with pride that now Cambodia is free from fighting and this clearly shows that no one loses in the win-win policy - each and everyone is the winner, while the nation by and large is winning as well. Thanks to the move of rehabilitating the railways today, we will be able to speed up internal integration, which is more important in addition to administrative and political integrations of forces in conflict. We have removed completely and for all, the barriers that divided Cambodia by four forces - the Phnom Penh Government, the tripartite coalition who controlled three different parts and parcels of the country in between 1979 and 1993, and later between the Royal Government and Democratic Kampuchea, who controlled some parts along the Thai-Cambodia border.

In 1996, I put out a policy that its implementation leads to creating infrastructure like roads that link from one place to another, which partly helps reducing poverty as well. We also are conducting mine clearance in these areas, which together with the railways will integrate our country internally. The construction also serves the purpose of improving communications between Cambodia and Thailand in accordance with vision of the former leaders. It also serves as a chance to connect countries within the framework of the Greater Mekong Sub-region, whereas it will be part of the rail link in ASEAN - running through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and their neighbor - China.

The part between Cambodia and Loc Ninh in Vietnam will be 257 kilometers long and we have a deficiency of US$ 500 millions, which I am sure that the President of ADB would agree to act on behalf of Cambodia in mobilizing the above mentioned financial need to get final connection of the rails, and from here, the idea of connecting all countries member of the Greater Mekong Sub-region can be realized. We may need to have a bridge in Kompong Cham, over the Mekong, and one more over the Tonle Sap, to hang the rails up and on. ADB perhaps can help with this. OPEC may consider one part, while the World Bank could take up one, etc.

Taking this time because we have all the provincial governors here I must give an order that provincial and districts authorities of Banteay Mean Chey, Battambang, Pursath, Kompong Chhnang, Kandal, Kompong Speu, Takeo, Kompot, Sihanoukville will be held accountable for providing safety for experts and workers, as well as their equipments. I have another suggestion on the need for road construction as we already have under and/or in preparation for construction the road 57 from Battambang to Pailin, 67 from Chuam Srangam to national road 6, Siemreap, ... but we need to have two more roads - first the restoration of road 56 from Banteay Mean Chey to Samraong (114 kilometers) that ADB already conducted a study once and on the southern part of national road 5, a 155 kilometers road from Koun Damrei through Sampeo Loun, Phnom Proek, Kamrieng to Pailin.

We are transforming battlefields into development sites. I have talked to the President of ADB that Cambodia has two million hectares of cultivation land and we can produce twice a year. If we do that we will double our rice export bigger than Thailand and Vietnam. We are now doing one crop per year pattern. In Vietnam and Thailand, though this time is the dry season but they are green, whereas Cambodia is dry. What is the most important, as well agree, is to maintain peace and stability and we will be able to do what we want to and our friends will of course help us./.

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