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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Squabbling donors see demobilization at standstill

Squabbling donors see demobilization at standstill

PRIVATE squabbles and in-fighting among donors have brought demobilization reforms

almost to a standstill, according to diplomatic sources.

When the government meets the donors at the quarterly reform meeting at the end of

this month, the red faces and excuses may be on the other side of the table, for

once: arguments among the donors over the details of the demobilization plan are

threatening the second phase of the reform program, despite the government having

almost finished the first phase of demobilization, that of registering the soldiers.

"There has been difficulty in getting a plan that donors and the government

can agree to at this stage," said one western diplomat.

He cited a range of issues for the delay, including the fact that the original planning

was begun back in 1996. But the main bone of contention that has the donors divided

is the $1,200 demobilization fee, drawn up by the World Bank, which is due to be

paid to each soldier who leaves the army.

"There's a lot of nervousness about the 1,200 dollar payout, how it would work,

whether it would have the effect which is intended for it. And I understand that

there is nervousness on both sides [government and donors]," said the diplomat.

The calculation was based on the requirements of a typical demobilizing soldier,

using examples from other countries. But donors are nervous that the cash payout

could herald a rush of "ghost soldiers" or other non-eligible people, keen

for a share of the riches.

According to one source, the Germans and the Swedes are considering going ahead with

their own demobilization plan, independently of the working group. However, neither

the German Embassy nor the Swedish development agency SIDA would comment.

Bonaventure Mbida-Essama, acting chief of the World Bank's Cambodia office, which

heads the demobilization working group, said that it was a "sensitive issue"

that he could not comment on.

"We have conveyed our views to the government, and we want the government to

take the lead on this.

"They are working very hard to make effort - but if we make a pronouncement

it might disrupt the delicate situation which we are at now," he said.

The division points to tensions surfacing across the donor community as the actual

business of implementing the reforms gets under way.

A second diplomat noted that there were in fact problems surfacing in other reform


"Generally, you could say that the reform groups are slipping," the diplomat

said. There are delays in deadlines, and these are the fault of the donors as well,

not just the government."

In civil administration reform, for example, the completion of phase one, which deals

with census and personnel profiles, analysis of ministries, development of career

paths for civil servants and the establishment of an appropriate remuneration system,

has been delayed by six months until the end of July 2000.

Referring to the working groups in general, Bill Costello, First Secretary (Development

Cooperation) at the Australian Embassy, said there was still time for a "flurry

of activity between now and the 27th", but said he felt that the commitment

was still there, even though the "actual progress on implementation is slower

than might have been promised or expected."

"We're still on the track, just moving more slowly down the track than we might

have hoped," he explained.

In addition to the four main working groups, the donors have created a "rule

of law contact group" which looks at issues not covered by the other groups.

Although not officially a working group, donors will request that the government

allow for the opportunity to discuss judicial and human rights issues at the meeting.

"At the last meeting the government advised it was creating a fifth reform council

on judicial reform," said Costello. "We're hoping there will be a progress

report on that issue that we can respond to."

Possible rule-of-law issues up for discussion at the CG meeting include the Khmer

Rouge tribunal, the CMAC scandal, and progress on commune elections, although none

of these have been confirmed.

Several diplomats agreed that the atmosphere at the coming meeting might be less

convivial than the first meeting in June, now that the real work of reforms was beginning.

Said one, "To some degree, the honeymoon's over. Now comes the hard part of

making the marriage work."

Meanwhile, in Washington the US Congress has passed a bill which, if approved by

the President, could place further obstacles in the way of funding to Cambodia.

Section 573a of the bill reads: "The secretary of the Treasury should instruct

the United States executive directors of the international financial institutions

to use the voice and vote of the United States to oppose loans to the Central Government

of Cambodia, except loans to support basic human needs."

Such a bill may hamper the progress of both World Bank and IMF loans, according to

Cambodia watchers.

But according to the World Bank's Mbida-Essama, the bill, if passed as it stands,

would "normally affect activities, but with our programs there can always be


He said he believed that the World Bank management and the US could "work out

their differences".

However, a long-standing Washington-based Cambodia-watcher was adamant that the legislation

would prove a stumbling block for the government, and linked current human rights

issues with the US stance.

"The actions of the US congress are a clear indication that Capitol Hill is

not buying Hun Sen's rhetoric on political and economic reform," he said by


"The same week law-makers finalize the bill, an SRP MP goes missing and even

more nonsense on a domestic KR trial emanates from Phnom Penh. Talk is cheap in Cambodia,

and in Washington actions speak louder than words.

"The Cambodian government has a lot to prove before aid is resumed, and it can

begin by arresting those who committed gross human rights abuses in 1997 and 1998."



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