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Friday, July 04, 2008

Power lines

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says thousands of rural households in Cambodia will be connected to electricity under funding Australia will provide through the World Bank over the next four years.

Smith announced the funding of more than 30 million Australian dollars on July 1 during a visit to Vietnam, one of three countries along with Cambodia and Laos to benefit from the rural electrification program.

"In Cambodia, where only six percent of rural households can access electricity, Australia will provide $12.3 million to help extend electricity supply to an additional 13,000 households and small enterprises in rural areas," Smith said.

As well as improving electrical supply in rural areas, the funds would also be used to reduce transmission losses and promote renewable energy in the three countries, Smith said.

A statement issued by the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh said the funding builds on the Canberra government's development program in Cambodia.

"The Australian government will provide an estimated $61.2 million (US$58.6 million) in development assistance to Cambodia in 2008-2009 (July 2008 to June 2009)," said the statement.
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Paving the way

Cambodia will spend at least $2.5 billion to implement a 12-year national road reconstruction program, said Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol.

Known as the Road Asset Management Project (RAMP), the work is expected to generate substantial benefit to the nation, according to a report from the ministry’s General Department of Public Works.

Implemented in three phases, RAMP will connect Cambodia to the region via ASEAN Highway 1, which connects Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok via Phnom Penh, and ASEAN Highway 11, which stretches from Sihanoukville north into Laos.

The connections will make Cambodia part of 23 routes involving over 38,000 kilometers of ASEAN highways.

“These projects will make it possible for local people to get access to all kinds of social services, markets for agricultural produce and nonagricultural employment opportunities,” said Ouk Nida, the senior project implementation officer for infrastructure at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Ouk Nida said the improved network would benefit people’s living conditions by reducing transportation costs and times as well as enabling safer and more economical transportation between commercial and residential areas.

Improving the nation’s roads should remain a top priority of the government, agreed Cambodian Economic Association president Chan Sophal.

“Road construction and rehabilitation is vital for the transport of both passengers and goods,” said Chan Sophal.

Cambodia’s development partners, including the ABD, the World Bank (WB) and development agencies from China, Japan and South Korea, have already made grants and loans for work on National Roads 1, 3, 6A, 7, 8, 33, and 78, noted a World Bank report.

“Cambodia’s road network measures approximately 38,257 kilometers, including 4,757 kilometers of national roads and 5,700 kilometers of provincial roads under the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and 27,800 kilometers of tertiary roads under the responsibility of the Ministry of Rural Development,” said the report.

The road network was still in a developmental stage, and most roads were in poor condition, with the tarmac hammered by old and dilapidated trucks. Motorbikes and even animal-drawn carts were being used to carry goods in some parts of the country.

“About 90% of other roads are still in bad condition, even though the primary national road network has been improved,” said Ouk Nida, who noted that ADB has already funded repair of National Roads 5, 6, 33, 56, and 68.

ADB has spent more than $250 million in Cambodia since 1993. Its work includes seven major road repair projects as well as several drainage and flood-control schemes across Cambodia, he said.

Between 1992 and 2007 Japan provided more than $1.3 billion in financial assistance in the form of bilateral grants and extended a $182 million loan for the rehabilitation and development of the Cambodian road system, according to a Japanese report issued in May.

“The government of Japan has provided approximately US$250 million in grant aid for road rehabilitation and construction, whereas about US$150 million has gone to bridge construction and rehabilitation,” according to a statement from the Japanese embassy.

South Korean Ambassador to Cambodia Shin Hyun Suk noted in May, meanwhile, that “South Korea has provided another $37 million, adding to the $17 million in Economic Development Cooperation Fund loans to the Cambodian government to finish the National Road 3 rehabilitation project.”

While the World Bank said the objective of RAMP was to ensure continued effective use of the rehabilitated national and provincial road network in support of Cambodian economic development, Cambodian Economic Association president Chan Sophal worried that “Cambodia will lose if the roads are low in quality or lack maintenance because the government has borrowed from other countries, and most of the projects have been handled by foreign companies, giving few local companies experience in big projects.”

RAMP includes a plan for maintenance and repair of roads built or improved under the project, according to the General Department of Public Works report.

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport estimated that there were about 670,000 motorbikes and 197,000 automobiles plying the nation’s roads at the end of 2007, including, according to World Bank estimates, 326,310 motorbikes, 102, 810 lighter vehicles and 17,880 heavy trucks that were not registered.
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Brush with death

Veteran Cambodian painter Vann Nath opened his art gallery at the Kith Eng Restaurant in Phnom Penh to the public on July 1, unveiling paintings documenting his time at Tuol Sleng, the notorious Khmer Rouge prison.

Nath owns the restaurant that serves as the exhibition space, giving the gallery an intimate feel. Looking at the paintings creates a sense that the artist is personally narrating his life story to you.

Nath was captured by the Khmer Rouge and taken to Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, in December 1977. He was saved from almost certain execution in February 1978 after being commissioned to paint portraits of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.

Nath was one of only seven survivors of Tuol Sleng, where an estimated 14,000 people were detained and brutalized before being executed. Nath went on to produce paintings as a visual memoir of his experiences following the collapse of the Pol Pot regime.

Ten of Nath’s paintings tell the story of his capture, incarceration, and escape from execution. They are arranged around the gallery in chronological order. On the wall opposite the entrance is a photograph taken of Nath upon his entry into Tuol Sleng, emphasising the reality of his experiences.

Nath said that he wanted his gallery to teach the younger generations of Cambodians about the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime.

“Some believe and some do not believe,” Nath said. “But they can come and look at my paintings as evidence, and make up their own minds. They can look at my pictures as testament to the atrocities carried out at Tuol Sleng.”

“If they want to learn about the Pol Pot era, the younger generations of Cambodians can read the books and documents and look at photos from that time. They should also ask their parents to tell them about their experiences. It is up to them to piece together the evidence,” he said.

Sara Colm of the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, speaking at the exhibition opening, said “Vann Nath is not only a victim of Khmer Rouge human rights abuses at Tuol Sleng, but he has dedicated his life to keeping the memories alive. He has an intense devotion to accuracy and a photographic memory.”

Colm called Nath the “the voice of conscience for Cambodia. He won’t forget the actions of the Khmer Rouge, even in the face of health problems and other issues.”

“It’s important to keep all the paintings together as a series,” said Colm. “The permanent display of these pictures reflects Vann Nath’s devotion to history and memory.”

The gallery will be a permanent installation at the Kith Eng Restaurant at 33B Street 169. It is open from 6 to 9pm and can be viewed only upon request.
“Anyone who has an interest in knowing about my experiences in the Pol Pot era can come and see,” said Nath.

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