… First of all allow me to express my gratitude to the people in Koh Sotin district as a whole and especially people residing along the Tonle Touch (Small River). Before talking about the bridge let me speak a little about what happened here 27 years ago – March 30, 1975. In the Pong Ro commune there was a young man who together with others in an army unit traveled from Wat Damnak Pring through to the Pong Ro commune. He was no one but me, Hun Sen. I could remember that after a wound in my right shoulder on January 1, 1975 in a ‘flowering operation’ at Tonle Bet of Kompong Cham, I was sent to a school for military officials in Bos Lahong, Oreang Ov district. Few weeks after I left Pong Ro, I was wounded in one of my eyes.
… Koh Sotin was placed as region 22 in the Khmer Rouge regime. As the military school was of a regional level, I could travel here without having to have permission. There was an incident that I could well remember from this place. From the Governor Srey Ya (of the Lon Nol army), General Sar Hao to General Nou Tho, who is my uncle as he is cousin to my mother, there was a practice of launching a marine operation upstream and downstream of the Mekong river. In those days, the part upper to and lower from Chi He (a small town on the Mekong River,) a cable was strung across the river so that the warships would be stopped and attacked. This area used to be a place that contributed a lot to the struggle to liberate the country from the foreign occupation. But we were to escape from ambush to get caught in a trap. I mean we were liberated from Lon Nol, but were trapped in the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. We all were then saved to life again by the January 7, 1979.
… Today, I have a great pleasure to be able to come back to Pong Ro commune, or Koh Sotin district as a whole. Some people might still remember seeing me in those days of war. What is different though is that Hun Sen then was a two-eyed man and currently is one-eyed man. March 30, 1975, when I was here I still have two eyes. But after leaving here, on April 16, 1975 I was wounded in one eye. I am glad to have come and preside over the groundbreaking ceremony to build this Pong Ro Canal Bridge. I wish to share some of your hardships encountered in the last two years – 2000 and 2001 – of flooding. War caused tremendous destruction already for our people, but less is caused by the natural calamity.
… In the two years of 2000 and 2001, the Royal Government has launched various interventions, including my presence in Koh Sotin as well, to boost up relief efforts. As HE Governor Chieng Am mentioned in his report that there has recently been a landslide of a place at Chi He and our people have had to be moved out. A lot of infrastructures like bridges, roads, canals, schools, hospitals and various others have been destroyed, not to mention also devastation impacts on crops of our people. Thanks to the efforts made by the Royal Government, all levels of local authorities, the armed forces, especially each and every family, we have overcome those hardships. As of now we have noticed some advances of rain which is very good as at least it would get the grass growing for us to feed our animals.
… As is reported by General Kong Ieng, previously the bridge was 150 meters. Now we have identified a better position, which would use only 96 meters of Bailey Bridge. The background story of why there is this bridge over the Pong Ro canal has been a nice one. It was started by wood and repaired time after time. But due to the flood in 2001, the state of the bridge had been deteriorated to beyond reparation. What I wish to have your attention here is that once the bridge is built, it is not Hun Sen’s or the Government’s, but it is our peoples’. This bridge has in fact had a significant geographical advantage as it links together a number of communes from Mohaleap and Pong Ro to Oreang Ov of Kompong Cham. Also, along the Tonle Touch, it allows travelling through to Sithor Kandal of Prey Veng and back to Kompong Cham town through the Kizuna Bridge.
… Just now there has a request with about three thousand thump prints for a bridge at Roka Kaong and was proposed to me by HE Ou Orhat, Secretary of State for Planning. The fact is that if we were to have this Pong Ro Bridge but the Roka Kaong one is left in dilapidated state, the trip between here and Phnom Penh would still be impossible. As I said earlier that this bridge has been proposed to the World Bank for loan for the construction. But HE Yim Chhaily, Secreatry of State for Rural Development confirmed to me that the World Bank has notified already that it would not approve this request. With this confirmation, I wish to announce that the Royal Government offers to build the Roka Kaong Bridge as requested. This bridge is 97-meter long. Where there is a way, and/or a bridge, there is hope.
… May I stress it here that in case the construction of the bridge expands into the flood time, the military engineering team of the Ministry of Defence has to offer ferry service for free for our people. This bridge would also be equipped with the solar-energized lighting system. Well I may recall a saying that goes “Prey Nokor falls, Phnom Penh collapses, Battambang falls apart, Angkor Wat is a happy place.” But I wish to change this statement now into “Kompong Cham unites, Phnom Penh in pleasure, Battambang flourishes, and Angkor Wat is a happy place.” Why Kompong Cham unites? Because we have the KIZUNA Bridge, built by the Japanese assistance, links the east and the west banks of Kompong Cham. As our nation unites, I think the revised saying could now be used.
… Just now I heard our people shouted as long as there is Hun Sen, there is peace, and etc. At least I can assure you that there is Hun Sen, there will be bridges, roads, etc. I have a strong belief that if no rural infrastructure is built, rural development is unforeseeable. So we have to focus on issue of water (drinking and irrigation,) bridges and roads, schools, hospitals as well as other rural needs. Rural needs could not be met by efforts made only in air-conditioned rooms and those with neck ties but by going to the practical level, meeting people and observing what they have and they need. That is a reason why I have been able to survive for more than twenty years with our people. We have to know full well the problems, and the need of the people. What is needed, in what stage or circumstance? But the will could not overlook the ability as well. But if we search for more ability, we would be able to meet our will and our efforts to reduce poverty among our people and to have development would be reachable.