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Take a broader view - PM

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With progress in a number of key areas stalled since last year, Prime Minister

Hun Sen urged donors to take a broad view of progress in Cambodia in his speech

to Cambodia's annual donors meeting June 20.

Some of the estimated 2,000 members of the Congress of the Poor who marched to the National Assembly on the eve of the donors conference. They called on donors to take more account of their needs.

The Consultative Group (CG)

meeting, which is set to close with donor pledges today, June 21, heard from

government and donor representatives on issues including poverty reduction,

decentralization, and forestry and fisheries reform, with legal reform and

governance emerging as the key issues.

Hun Sen pointed to the distance

Cambodia had traveled in the previous decade and emphasized his theme by

informing delegates that the meeting was being held in the building which had

once housed the United Nations Transitional Authority of Cambodia.

The

"prevalence of peace, political stability and understanding, democratic

principles and practices taking firm roots," were among the last decade's

achievements highlighted by the Prime Minister.

He told reporters after

the meeting he was hopeful donor countries would provide the full amount the

government had requested in overseas development assistance.

The

government requested $1.45 billion over the next three years or $485 million per

year. By way of comparison donors pledged more than $5 billion between 1992 and

2001, and disbursed $3.68 billion.

Observers at the meeting predicted the

government would comfortably receive the amount it has requested, and could

receive more, possibly close to last year's $560 million.

Hun Sen moved

to reassure donors about the government's commitment to a Khmer Rouge tribunal,

but stressed it would be held on Cambodia's terms.

"I have always

maintained that any solution has to be Cambodian in nature while certainly

conforming to accepted international norms," he told the meeting. "We can ill

afford to leave our destiny in the hands of others.

"High-level

negotiations are ongoing behind the scenes and have been constructive," he said.

He did not elaborate on the meetings but Kyodo News Agency reported a senior

Japanese official saying that Japan was playing a role in mediating discussions

between the Cambodian government and the UN.

At last year's meeting in

Tokyo, donors had urged the government to press ahead with the KR tribunal.

This year donors were sympathetic to the government, with several

expressing regret over the impasse in negotiations with the UN and telling the

meeting they were hopeful talks with the UN would soon resume.

Government

and donors had agreed at the Tokyo meeting on ten areas where progress would be

monitored over the year to June 2002. The European Union's assessment of those

benchmark's rated only the land law "done".

The EU assessed both the

anti-corruption law and the action plan on legal and judicial reform as "not

done". The EU recorded "great frustration" and "disappointment" at the lack of

progress.

The United Kingdom's statement referred to "overall

disappointing progress" over the action points agreed last year, and said the UK

needed "to see that Government is doing its part".

For the other seven

areas, including forestry, civil service reform, passing the investment law, and

launching demobilization, the government received a mixture of limited praise

and donor frustration. For example the EU commended the government on improving

disbursements to social sectors but noted that only one-third of health sector

salaries were paid in the first half of this year.

Elections were

highlighted as a key issue in the US statement which anticipated a

re-examination of restrictions on US aid imposed after the 1997 factional

fighting. That re-examination is conditional on the 2003 national elections

providing a safe environment for candidates, equal access to the broadcast media

and effective controls on election abuses.

Hun Sen, in his speech, called

the 1998 elections the "miracle of the Mekong" and the recent commune elections

"another miracle" in which "people voted without fear or favor, unfettered by

extraneous considerations ... [and] ... a clear and unambiguous reflection of

the true will of the people".

Others at the meeting were less fulsome in

their praise of February's local elections with most donors recognizing progress

but pointing out serious deficiencies.

The EU statement highlighted

"serious concerns" related to "several incidents that tarnished the pre-election

period" and called on the government to revise the electoral law and ensure the

neutrality of the National Election Committee before next year's general

election.

Hun Sen acknowledged that corruption in the government and

judiciary was an impediment to economic growth and sustainable development. To

address corruption, he said, the government was committed to finalizing the

draft anti-corruption law before the end of June 2003.

On June 13 the

United States' General Accounting Office highlighted the lack of progress on

Cambodia's anti-corruption law in a report to Congress. Despite considering the

anti-corruption law for the past seven years it has not yet been passed into

law, the report stated.

That assessment was backed by the Swedish

statement to the CG meeting which described corruption as "rampant" and said

that transparency and accountability were "key words in our

cooperation".

"Corruption not only squanders national financial and

natural resources. It also contributes to poverty and may seriously undermine

human rights. Corruption and the lack of rule of law have undoubtedly

contributed to the drastic decrease in foreign investment over the past years,"

read the statement, which was made available to the press.

One NGO

representative to the meeting, Sok Sam Oeun, characterized proceedings as

positive.

"There is progress, but how much is another issue," he said

adding that the government had made useful proposals on legal and judicial

reform but needed a "concrete plan" to put them into effect.

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