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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Donors see pluses and minuses

Donors see pluses and minuses

WHILE the Government can expect some pats on the back from donors at the upcoming

June 14 post-consultative group meeting, major concerns still exist.

The meeting is an opportunity for the Government to report to donors on the progress

of logging control, military and civil service and financial reform.

The crackdown on illegal logging has been held up as the most visible area of Government

success and willingness to comply with donor requests. It has generally been stopped

except in the northwest of the country, where environmental NGO Global Witness reports

a pocket of ongoing illegal logging and timber exports to Vietnam.

However, one diplomat said that donors are now likely to emphasize their concerns

about logging in legal concession areas and their sustainability and environmental

impact.

Demobilization of the military is another key area for donors and the Government.

Donors spoken to by the Post said that overall there was a very favorable impression

of the Ministry of Defense and RCAF's efforts and commitment so far to trim back

the 148,000 personnel in the armed forces.

One donor said that his Government had some queries about the reliability of the

registration process currently under way, but otherwise looked on the process as

still in development.

Criticism of the process has been more directed at the World Bank's plan for the

process and handling of it to date, specifically:

the Bank's use of 1996 data for enrollment figures - which exclude large numbers

of defectors;

the failure of the plan to take into account the military needs of the country following

demobilization;

the lack of foresight over what the demobilized soldiers would do for long term employment.

One diplomat was also particularly critical of a World Bank Seminar two weeks ago

in which no RCAF or Defense Ministry officials participated. He said he asked officials

in both departments why they were not there and was told it was because they were

not invited.

Meanwhile a group of human rights NGOs have called for a new rule of law and judicial

reform sub-committee to be created, citing fears that the issues will not be covered

fully at the June 14 meet.

Adhoc, Licadho and Human Rights Watch maintain that although the four existing subcommittees

(which cover demobilization, civil service, forestry and fiscal reforms) were each

to address rule of law, impunity and judicial reform issues within their own sector,

as was agreed at Tokyo, a fifth group is needed to look at the issue as a whole.

"We want to make sure that human rights is on the agenda of these donor meetings,"

said Sara Colm of Human Rights Watch. "We want a working group to be set up

not only to coordinate donor policy, input and contributions, but also to create

a body to monitor and evaluate government progress in meeting stated reforms."

The push for a new group comes after the government circulated an agenda for the

June 14 meeting last week, which allowed only for discussion of demobilization, forestry,

fiscal and civil service reforms.

Support for the proposed new group is, however, limited. At a June 7 meeting of around

50 diplomats, UN and other donor representatives, concerns were raised that the rights

issues were "cross-cutting" - in other words, that they were better tackled

by each individual subcommittee, rather than a fifth, separate group.

The rights NGOs, however, do not agree. "We feel very strongly that it's premature

to attempt to mainstream human rights into the bodies of the other committees,"

said Colm.

Privately, however, some donors say that they believe a group dedicated solely to

discussing human rights would frighten off the government from a meaningful dialogue

with any of the subcommittees.

Yet, despite the reluctance to form a separate group, all donors at the meeting were

concerned that the government had not allocated time to discuss broader issues, such

as human rights, at the June 14 meeting.

"All the participants at the meeting were concerned about this, and it was decided

that a request should be made to the government to allow half an hour for discussion

of the human rights issue", said one participant, though conceding that it was

unlikely meaningful progress could be made on the human rights issue with 30 minutes

of discussion.

Before the CG meeting in Tokyo, the government affirmed its commitment to human rights,

pledging in a pre-meeting report to reaffirm its "unbreakable attachment to

liberal democracy, to the freedom of expression, to an independent judiciary, to

neutrality and discipline in the armed forces and national police, to the strengthening

of the rule of law....".

In a statement June 11, Sidney Jones, executive director of the Asia division of

Human Rights Watch said: "We urge the donors to strictly monitor the government's

compliance with its commitments, in particular on human rights. It's time for the

government to live up to its pledges and actually launch the reforms needed to end

the problems of impunity."

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