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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt admits it can't pay war widows' handouts

Govt admits it can't pay war widows' handouts

W IDOWS and orphans of Cambodian soldiers killed in the continuing guerrilla war

are only entitled to $100 in benefits, but the government cannot afford even

this.

"For my ministry, we don't want the war to drag on. If it does it

means we'll be burdened with more dead and more amputees," Dr Hong Theme, under

secretary of state of Social Welfare, Labor and Veterans' Affairs, said on April

26. He called for international humanitarian organizations to help rehabilitate

Cambodia.

Theme said the annual budget allocation to run the ministry

could not even cover six months of expenses.

He said his ministry was

responsible for providing financial benefits to more than 140,000 dependents

including wives, mothers and children of deceased government

servicemen.

However, the government could not make payment on the monthly

entitlements, which came to $220,000 - well beyond the means of his

budget.

"If any one government soldier is killed on the battlefield, we

pay immediately three months salary to the family and funeral costs. After that

we pay another three months salary followed by a final 12 months salary," he

said.

An average soldier's salary is $7 per month.

According to

Theme, the figures only covered soldiers who served with the former State of

Cambodia.

 

The ministry had also received a list of dead servicemen who had served with

the former royalist and non-government guerrilla factions that joined the State

of Cambodia in last May's UN-supervised elections.

This had been returned

for further verification.

No figures are available for Khmer Rouge

dead.

Now only the families of servicemen killed in action are entitled

to government assistance, he said.

Another of Cambodia's biggest social

problems is dealing with 200,000 orphans.

"As you understand because of

more than 20 years of war, especially the Pol Pot time, this created many, many

orphans," he said.

The Khmer Rouge, lead by Pol Pot were responsible for

the deaths of more than one million Cambodians during a 1970s reign of

terror.

He said many orphans had known no other home except housing

provided by the state.

"Some orphans living in orphanages since 1979 are

adults, so they have to leave the orphanage and we have to help them get a

profession," he said.

The inability of the government to meet its

financial obligations to war victims had led to an upsurge of homeless children

living on the street and amputee beggars.

"Another problem you might have

seen is amputee beggars at markets or on the roads. You may wonder if the

government pays them, why are they begging," Theme said, adding: "This is a very

difficult problem."

An estimated 10 million land mines in Cambodia

continues to claim hundreds of victims per month.

"In Cambodia, social

welfare is one of the smallest ministries," Theme said.-Reuters

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