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Donors air next year’s aid agenda

LAND rights, judicial reform and the global economic crisis are to be among the key challenges for Cambodia in 2010, according to foreign donors, who have expressed cautious optimism about the government’s progress in key areas.

Speaking at the Government-Development Partner Coordination Committee (GDCC) meeting held in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, senior officials and diplomats discussed the country’s progress on the series of Joint Monitoring Indicators (JMIs) that are linked to annual donations of foreign aid.

“This meeting of the GDCC is taking place at a particularly critical juncture, as we are seeing more clearly the impacts from the global economic downturn and the slowdown in Cambodia’s economic growth,” World Bank Country Manager Qimiao Fan said in a statement released following the meeting.

German Ambassador Frank Markus Mann hailed “very positive results” in the land sector but said a spate of recent land disputes represented an “urgent” challenge to poverty reduction and equitable economic development.

Similarly, Australian Ambassador Margaret Adamson praised recent actions on judicial reform, including the government’s plan to send the long-awaited anticorruption law to the National Assembly “in the coming weeks”, but expressed concerns about the recent crackdown on government critics.

The meeting came ahead of December’s annual Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum, at which foreign nations are set to announce their aid donations for 2010, but critics have long questioned the utility of such meetings.

In a February report, international group Global Witness argued that despite promises of reform dating back to 2001, the government has failed to deliver, noting the continued lack of an anticorruption law.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said donors, who pledged nearly US$1 billion in aid in 2009, had the power to pressure the government on key issues, but that past experience was not encouraging.

“If they continue to do what they’ve done in past years, there will be no improvements,” he said.

Chith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, who attended the meeting, said it was positive that the issues were being raised but that the government’s commitment would be tested in between the government-donor forums.

“There need to be further discussions between NGOs and development partners,” he said. “NGOs welcome” further discussions and dialogue.

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