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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - World Bank denies demob process corrupt

World Bank denies demob process corrupt

WORLD Bank chief Bonaventure Mbida Essama is infuriated by allegations by the Sam

Rainsy Party (SRP) and freelance journalist George McLeod in the Bangkok Post that

the World-Bank-coordinated demobilization program is riddled with corruption and

fraud.

Mbida-Essama's anger was sparked by an article by McLeod published in the Bangkok

Post on October 29 in which opposition leader Sam Rainsy castigated the demobilization

program for alleged corruption and fraud.

"When people make big statements, they should think more carefully about the

logic of their statements; as far as I'm concerned, there is no logic [in these allegations],"

Mbida-Essama said.

He denies ever being interviewed by McLeod, despite assertions in the Bangkok Post

article that McLeod had asked Mbida-Essama why numbers from the 1998 census and the

official demobilization figures do not correspond. The article also quotes Mbida-Essama

as saying the census numbers were "wrong".

"I was never interviewed by [McLeod] and I never met him," Mbida-Essama

said. "I vigorously deny that I ever made those statements."

He said he intends to write an official letter to the SRP and to the Bangkok Post

refuting the allegations.

The accusations of corruption were repeated in a letter from 11 SRP parliamentarians

to the World Bank's Vice-President for East Asia and Pacific Region, Jemal-Ud-Din

Kassum, in connection with his November 15-17 visit to Cambodia.

The letter singles out demobilization as one of the areas of SRP parliamentarians'

concern and refers to the Bangkok Post article for elaboration.

The demobilization program has projected costs of $45 million - most of which will

come from international donors. The Bangkok Post article claims that much of that

money will be used to pay for over 70,000 non-existent soldiers to return to civil

society.

However, the arithmetic used by McLeod in the Bangkok Post article to calculate the

numbers of soldiers appears dubious.

By the end of the reintegration of various rebel forces in 1998, 155,000 soldiers

were on the military pay rolls. A registration process in early 1999 eliminated 14-plus

thousand non-existent "ghost" soldiers and war widows.

This brought the number down to 131,000 soldiers who are now registered in a central

database and have been issued with photo ID cards. Of those the demobilization program

will discharge a total of 31,500 - not 70,000 - by the end of 2003.

Based on information from Rainsy, McLeod's article states:

"The Cambodian Government claims that its force stands at 150,000, which contradicts

findings of a 1998 UN census that place the force at only 101,391. In addition, the

military eliminated 22,000 ghost soldiers or non-existent soldiers who are merely

names on paper in 1999. According to those figures, RCAF has only 79,391 soldiers

and staff, or 70,609 fewer than the Government claims."

The article later states that the figures in the census were "attained by making

direct head-counts of RCAF soldiers, not by simply asking RCAF officers". Thus,

the ghost soldiers could not have been included in the census figures.

Additionally, the census was conducted in March 1998, at a time when both Khmer Rouge

and Royalists were still fighting in the jungles.

The introduction to the census states that military operations made it impossible

to count the population in Samlot, Veal Veng and Anlong Veng districts and O Bei

Choan village - areas where a majority of rebel soldiers would have been based due

to the fighting. The census estimates the population of these areas to be 45,000.

SRP parliamentarian Yim Sovann, one of the signatories of the letter to World Bank

Vice-President Kassum, acknowledges that the difference between the demobilization

figures and the census is tens of thousands lower than the 70,609 claimed in the

Bangkok Post article.

"But I don't believe that all the people in the areas that the census didn't

count were soldiers," Sovann explained. "Maybe 20 percent of them were,

but no more."

He argues that friends or relatives of military commanders or other civilians could

have bribed army officers to obtain military registration cards. This would enable

them to volunteer for demobilization and thus wrongly receive the benefits and assistance

packages given to discharged soldiers.

"I have received information from local people and people in the military who

were very worried that the people who are demobilized were not soldiers before and

that they only registered to get the benefits," Sovann says.

A military analyst significantly downplays the likelihood that the number of registered

soldiers has been inflated by civilians who bribed their way into the military ranks.

"I'm not convinced that the figures in the database are inflated; there is a

possibility that some of the people who were registered were not recent performing

soldiers, but that does not necessarily mean that they never fought anybody,"

the analyst says.

He underlines the complexity of defining exactly who is a soldier and who is not,

due to the country's tumultuous past and the variety of armed factions that have

formed, dissolved, been integrated into RCAF or been reformed at different times

in the past decade.

Former royalist general Nhek Bun Chhay says 10,000 of his troops from the 1997-1998

fighting were never integrated into RCAF. It is widely believed that some of the

rebel soldiers were recruited while the fighting occurred and were not previously

employed in the military.

Also, Cambodian soldiers - rebels and RCAF alike - are known for drifting in and

out of service, many of them working as farmers or drivers during peaceful times.

"There comes a point when you have to draw a line in the sand and say that this

is where we start - this is what RCAF consists of now," the analyst said. "The

demobilization process could be stalled for generations if you had to check the past

and background of every single soldier".

Demobilized soldiers are given $240 in cash, 150 kilograms of rice, various agricultural

and household items, a health check, housing, and transportation to their new home.

Mbida-Essama says the possibility of commanding officers cashing in on the demobilization

program through ghost soldiers is very remote.

"You cannot give a health screening to a ghost," he says. "You cannot

give a bag of rice to a ghost. If you don't identify as a demobilized soldier in

the database, you don't receive any of this or any other benefits.

"We're not dealing with ghosts here. We're dealing with real people. It may

be possible that within those who remain in the army, there are still some ghosts

on the payroll. But that does not concern those who leave the military. They are

warm-bodied flesh and blood, not ghosts."

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