Built by Cambodian Reserved Fund
I am so greatly honored and pleased to have come and shared with you the pleasure of inaugurating the National Road 68 – the segment that links up district of Kralanh of Siem Reap with O S’maj of Uddar Meanjei province. HE Tram Iv Toeuk, Minister for Transport and Public Works already informed us about the road and its construction background. Please allow me to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the Ministry of Transport and Public Works as well as the Ministry of Economy and Finance for providing financial and technical resources to implementing agencies – the Samdech Techo Engineering Team of Siem Reap and the Chief of General Staff’s Engineering Team is included, for taking the task to build this road successfully. Also, equal thanks go to the Siem Reap and Uddar Meanjei provincial authorities and the armed forces stationed in the northern part of Cambodia.
Please allow me to remind us a bit about the background of this road segment. As far as our effort to build this road is concerned, we could consider it one of the historic achievements. We have made tremendous efforts and overcome numerous impacts from the world financial crisis and economic downturn to get this job done. We used our saving and reserve – not our foreign reserve which we had at the time 2,500 million USD – to finance this road segment construction. As of present we have increase the foreign reserve to about 3 billion USD.
In August 2006, when HE Thaksin Shinawatra, then Prime Minister of Thailand, visited Cambodia, before the coup in Thailand, I talked him to build Cambodian the National Road 68. HE Thaksin promised me that after the construction of the National Road 67 is finished, the proposal for building the national road 68 would be brought for consideration. He was later brought down from power by a military coup. The Thai Government led by HE Surayuth Chulanont visited Cambodia and promised that Thailand would give Cambodia loan to build the said road.
In the general election in 2008, the People’s Power Party led by (the late) HE Samak Sundaravej was elected and he (led the Thai delegation to) visit Cambodia again. There was an agreement that a loan of 1,400 million Baht would be offered to Cambodia for the construction of the National Road 68. The Royal Government’s Economy and Finance Ministry under the leadership of HE Keat Chhon already started the process. Unfortunately, then Prime Minister Samak had to step down. HE Somchai Wongsawat took over the Prime Minister position but also failed to go on. Then the time of Prime Minister Abhisit Vijjajiva came.
It was my intention indeed that the road project were to proceed under whichever Government it would be in Thailand. We were committed to carry the project on as it is of bilateral relations. It was also my understanding that the two countries are interdependent and more so the Thais have been helping Cambodia in the construction of the national roads 67, 48 and 4. However, it was unfortunate once more in 2009 that the (bilateral) relations had turned sour and the Thais had called home their Ambassador from Cambodia. Cambodia followed suit. Despites such developments, we did not plan to abandon the project. Even after we received a four or six-page confidential letter with ten points recommended by then Foreign Minister Kasit Phiromya to Prime Minister Abhisit, in which the Cambodian national road 68 was one of them, we continued to keep silent.
One day in November, I travelled to Siem Reap province to pay call on the armed forces, to fulfill some of the tasks, AND to get things ready for the forthcoming annual summit between the Cambodian People’s Party and the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. in Siem Reap, I sat smoking with HE Sieng Nam, a member of the National Assembly for Siem Reap constituency. By then the letter was no longer confidential. Everyone knew about it. HE Sieng Nam told me that in several coffee breaks he had with people in the public, many motor taxi drivers said that “if I were Samdech Hun Sen I would organize a Kathina to gather money to build the national road 68.” I was pulled through to my attention with this. It was obvious that the motor taxi driver could not accept the fact of being underestimated (by the Thais) and suggested that a Kathina would be a way to resolve the need for money.
To my surprise, I gave a call to Dr. Aun Poanmunirath, President of the Supreme Economic Council and my advisor, to ask him to discuss with HE Kiet Chhon, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economy and Finance, to figure out if we could set aside between 35 and 40 million USD to build the said road. After about an hour, HE Aun Poanmunirath replied to me that it could be done because it would not be one single withdrawal but in installment. I then ordered to start the procedure to inform the Thai side that Cambodia was not going to use the earmarked 1,400 million Baht for this project but to carry it through with own financial resource.
While meeting the Laotian guests with Samdech Chea Sim and Samdech Heng Samrin in Siem Reap, Prime Minister Abhisit called me from Songkla. It was on November 28. As I could not receive his call as I was in the summit. I then called him back later at night. Prime Minister Abhisit asked why Cambodia does not use the loan. I told him it was too difficult in our communication. He then said we would exchange letters on November 29. On that day I went to golf. He then called to one of my assistants. Responding to my return call, Prime Minister Abhisit said the exchange of letter could only be done on December 2 as he was now in Songkla. On December 2 I went to one of the former Cambodian royal palaces – Hluong Preah Sdech Kan – in Kampong Cham province.
I talked about various issues and those related to the confidential letter and the national road 68 construction were also included. I said that Cambodia would build the road with its own money. We conducted the groundbreaking ceremony for the launch of the construction of the road on December 5, 2009. Let me share with you that in 2010, though learning that Cambodia built the road 68 with its own fund, Prime Minister Abhisit, in his visit for a meeting in Phnom Penh, affirmed to me that the 1,400 million Baht has been earmarked for Cambodia. We will figure it out at some other time if or how do we go about using it.
This is the background of the national road 68. If we were to wait for foreign money, the road would not be done today. However, the tense situation between Cambodia and Thailand has now faded and the nightmare seems to have disappeared. With the new Thai Government in place, good dreams seem to have come. We are not in any way interfering in Thai internal affairs but – as is said by the Chinese Premier HE Wen Jiabao in Nanning – having a good neighbor is like possessing a mine of gold. I agree and elaborate that we have to be careful if our neighbor has got a cunning leader. However, the situation between the two countries has now returned to normality.
Without decision and commitment to use our own money to build this road, our people would go on living and traveling in difficulties. As a matter of fact this road has been in worst condition for 42 years already. This road was in disrepair state and left in absence of care since 18 March 1970 – when the war broke out in the country, followed by the genocidal regime in between 1975 and 1979. Though we have restored the country’s peace almost completely in between 1979 and 1998, many of our roads were still in a bad condition. Some of the travelers to Uddar Meanjei province in those days had had to travel through national road 67 to Anlong Veng district and then to Samraong city. That situation is now over and one of the sisters somewhere there said to me “it is now all easy.”
The state that bicycle rides man is now over. While it is an important road for travelers to and from Uddar Meanjei and Siem Reap provinces, the road is also playing key role in bilateral trades between Cambodia and Thailand. In just days ahead, according to some sources of information, a large number of (Thai) people in provinces of Borei Ram and Surin would travel through this road to celebrate New Year with former Prime Minister Thaksin in Siem Reap province. As he could not enter Thailand, Thaksin decides to come to Laos and Cambodia to celebrate the Songkran with his supporters. In addition to those coming through national road 68, those from Sisaket province will come by national road 67, and those in Srah Keo will come through national road 6.
It is my pleasure and pride indeed that this project has been conducted successfully and jointly by the military and civil engineering teams. The cost of building this road – including also impacts from de-mining, etc. has recorded a sum of 37.8 million USD, and ten per cent of the amount will be kept as quality liability for a period of one year. It should be noted that 44.95 km of the road was built by the Samdech Techo engineering team of Siem Reap, 35.5 km by the Ministry of Transport and Public Works and 36.47 km – from the city of Samraong to O’smaj by the engineering team of the general staff.
Let me inform you also that in just three years, the (Royal Government’s) financing in 2009, 2010 and 2011 allowed us to build also roads from Banteay Meanjei to Uddar Meanjei, to Preah Vihear and Stoeng Treng and to pave and to build lateritic roads of 1,287 km roads. As you can see we have been financing this part of the country with so much money. We should also take into consideration the financing by two other foundations – CTN that built 5 km of concrete road and Bayon TV that built the current road access to Preah Vihear temple. We have accumulated funding from other parts of the country so as to invest in the northern part of the country, which as a result we link up Sisophon of Banteay Meanjei in the northwest all the way to Stoeng Treng province in the northeast.
According to the report I have here we still have 710 km of road to be built and I have approved the request for construction in stages. I would like to take this opportunity to affirm to all of our people that the construction of national road 56 from Sisophon of Banteay Meanjei to Samraong city of Uddar Meanjei will soon begin. I have set it in my working program that on June 7 we will launch the construction and I am seeking understanding of our people who are living along the projected area for taking a bit more time in order to start the project. We have a procedure to abide by as the project will be funded partly by the Asian Development Bank and partly by the Republic of Korea. They will have to approve in signing and then look for consultant agencies to be followed by bidding in the ADB’s headquarters at Manila, the Philippines.
Maybe I should explain it to our people as to why do we need to make such a great effort on the construction of roads. We also have a road link NR 62 from Kompong Thom through to Tbeng Meanjei city of the province of Preah Vihear, and the national road 57 which is now done but I cannot preside over the construction yet because I have to attend to the health condition of my father. On the national road 5 (northwest and west of the country), various roads are under construction that link Pailin province and city altogether by roads from Komrieng, Phnom Proek, Sampeoloun, Mealay, etc. The answer to the above question is because we are trying to fulfill the political platform of the Cambodian People’s Party which in fact became that of the Royal Government of Cambodia too.
After formulating and implementing the win-win policy with great success our country is securing full and lasting peace. What remains to be a stumbling block for us has been the effort to integrate internally. You may be reminded that one of the important elements of the policy is to transform former battlefields into development zones. This is one of the highest priorities we planned in our development platform.
Let’s now observe as we all agree that the border area of O’smaj was one of the last battlefields even after the (Khmer Rouge stronghold of) Anlong Veng already integrated. The last fight we had at O’smaj was with Nhek Bun Chhay, Khan Savoen and the remnants of the Tamok force. What happens now? O’smaj is now a border market, from where we wire electricity to Uddar Meanjei and also an important border pass for trade and cooperation. As of now we all can see that areas where formerly were battlefields – from Mom Bei area of Preah Vihear to Pailin and Koh Kong provinces – are now development zones of some kind. We no longer fight with each other but work together for our national development.
To achieve peace is not yet complete. Peace and development must go hand in hand. We would not be able to maintain peace if we do not develop. It is with that perception that I have declared on behalf of the Cambodian People’s Party that I will transform former battlefields into development zones and markets. In reality, starting in Banteay Meanjei province all the way to Komrieng, Phnom Proek, Sampeo Loun and Pailin, cassavas have been planted in large area and we had to negotiate with the Thai authority recently to allow trade to proceed in a timely manner. So you see, our people no longer have to displace on their own soil but station and settle down with production and trade activities, though road access and school for children are still issues to be resolved.
With exception of the armed clashes at the temple of Ta Moan, Ta Krabei and Preah Vihear last year, Cambodia ended internal armed clashes completely since 1998. We have evaded our people from being killed and displaced from fighting to live in peace, to enjoy sound of music and listen to Buddhist sermons. Aside from this people benefit from development policy of the Cambodian People’s Party which has become entirely that of the Royal Government of Cambodia. It is indeed a vision in our policy of transforming former battlefields into development zones/market which is in fact aiming at alleviating poverty through the construction of infrastructures.
As a country in need of development it is prerequisite that we have to have roads, bridges, canals, and all the sorts so as to generate economic growth but also to redistribute equitably the growth while alleviating poverty as well as narrowing down the gap between urban area and countryside. There is no other way that is more equitable than to invest more money in rural infrastructures. This will bring rural areas closer to urban way of life. Take for instance, when we built a road it is for everyone – rich or poor to travel on but first and foremost the people who are living along way from the city. In another way this is like the Royal Government of Cambodia is saving time and resource for our people whenever they need to travel or transport whatever.
In fact the money we have saved have been used to build a number of roads already and every coming years more public investment will be made by state funds on roads, bridges, canals, etc.
Building school is also a way to equitably distribute the growth among our people too as children of all can study. As you can see connectivity is an important factor that we also have set it a main theme of the 20th ASEAN Summit which has just ended last week in Phnom Penh. As for Cambodia the element of local or internal integration has been a key in the concept of connectivity as it will allow us to integrate with neighboring countries and the region.
I mention always that it would be meaningless if we were to achieve only political and administrative integration without the physical integration. We ended the war in 1998 but the whole country was in separate blocs with different forms of control and on top of that – not only on this part of the country, but even the northeast Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri, the absence of roads and bridges prevented physical integration. With physical integration, we have reestablished capacity to transport, to generate socio-economic development, to redistribute labor and also to serve the need for defense as well.
It is with this in mind that you can see here a map in my hand that I have on it various lines representing roads that indicate in one color the ones that are already built, another that are under construction, and those that we need to find funding to build them. That is why connectivity is the theme we deem important and internal integration is prime because if we could not integrate among ourselves how could we talk of integrating with others. Take for instance the national road 68 not only integrates Cambodia in its own right but also with Thailand too.
In this connection, countries like China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and ADB help Cambodia integrate with neighboring countries as flow of goods by 2015 within ASEAN will be without barrier. In order that Cambodia could take up the competitive challenge, as is stimulated by the Phnom Penh agenda, we will have to double our integration efforts.
Also in this effort, the national road 68 as well as other roads recently built in the Cambodian-Thai border areas has in fact illustrated our policy of building a border of peace, friendship and cooperation – as we already did with Vietnam and Laos – with the Kingdom of Thailand. (It is encouraging to see that) the two countries’ relations have now been restored and normalized after Thailand is led by the Pheu Thai Government. Days ago I met with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand and our discussion focused on increasing trade between the two countries where border trade is also included.
I told Prime Minister Yingluck that the border passes in the border areas of Uddar Meanjei and Preah Vihear which are bordering with Borei Ram, Surin and some other Thai provinces are open only few days a week. I proposed to her that these passes should be open for trade on a more frequent and longer schedule or as permanent markets. She promised to look into the issue and recommended the Thai Trade Minister to go into actual discussion with Cambodian Trade Minister. So it is promising that we will exchange goods with one another not bullets. Last year, in early February, after the Chinese New Year, there were exchange of fire at the temple of Preah Vihear, and again after the Khmer New Year, the exchanges of fire were at the temple of Ta Moan and Ta Krabei.
The situation has now changed, as I said earlier, to a more favorable stage, where confidence has been increased in the two countries’ relations. I would urge close relations and communication between military commanders from both sides, local authorities along the border so that trade would blossom. Now the military is doing diplomatic work at the border while leaving the disagreement to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
We are not far from the celebration of the Khmer New Year – the Year of Dragon. My birth date is on a full moon day of the Year of Dragon. My wife dislikes it that I reveal my true birth date as she is afraid some people might use black magic to change my luck. Not only could my luck not be challenged easily, but also those who would do it, would otherwise face the misfortune. I was safe from the (heinous assassination) attempt with four B-40 rockets. There has also been a report that two sniping guns have been brought in to Phnom Penh. I advise these people to seek change through elections.
Some people have warned that the Royal Government has got only two choices – to allow free and fair general elections or to face with people’s uprising. Now I am telling them they should do their best in the forthcoming elections of 3 June. Winning or losing will depend on what and how you do it. What would you think? It would be democratic only if you win the elections? Or when you lose the elections, you’d rather instigate people to rise up and downfall the Royal Government? In 2008, in alliance with one another, the Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec Party threatened me with what they called the great demonstration and were able to initiate a one-year stalemate.
At that time I told them the Royal Government’s side also had many people ready to make a demonstration in its own right too. It was not a threat because there were then up to 220,000 people ready to protest for the Royal Government. Now I am warning again not to play the trick of it being a good election if you win but a bad one if you lose. In about one month that we were preparing the ASEAN Summit, there had been criticism and I had to be patient and waited till the event was over. When I responded to their critical comments they said ASEAN is not a place to criticize others. So as Prime Minister and as the ASEAN chair, do I have my rights to speak stripped off? Excuse me, you said it again and again but when I respond you always have that to say.
If they dream of becoming the country leader, they would have to do the best in the coming July 28, 2013 general elections. Once they are elected, the Peace building at the Council of Ministers will be ready for them and so ready oneself to chair the ASEAN meeting in 2022. By and large, all who would like to become Prime Ministers are older than I am. However, let’s not count in the age as long as they could do to win the elections. They always claim that Hun Sen has been in power too long. I am telling you the same as I have been telling you all along “it is not my decision, it is those of the people, the voters’. If they want me, they vote for CPP.” If they do not want me, they just do not vote (for the CPP) as no one would peep at who they vote for./.