THE British Foreign Office decided to freeze millions of dollars in provincial
aid funding to Cambodia so that "awkward" questions could be deflected in
A British diplomat said funding expatriates to work in the
provinces "breaks our own rules" for tourists, and "MPs will find that very
difficult to understand."
Should a British NGO worker be killed or
injured in the provinces, the diplomat said, "MPs will grill the Foreign Office
and give them a hard time....[funding provincial aid projects] can't be defended
Britain funds about $5 million worth of aid, mostly in
the provinces. The blanket decision to freeze money for aid projects in the
provinces - and request that their dozens of expatriates be recalled to Phnom
Penh - has appalled NGO workers.
It has been described variously as
"indefensible", "playing into the hands of the Khmer Rouge" and "a
NGOs say it sends precisely the wrong signal to a struggling
country whose rural development needs are an integral part of its
internationally-agreed peace plan.
"It's clearly demonstrating a lack of
confidence in the government of Cambodia to govern," said one senior British NGO
worker. "It's the wrong time to be sending that signal."
NGO staff - who
have banded together to fight the decision - are adamant that Cambodia's
security situation does not warrant a full-scale withdrawal of expatriates to
"We do not see any reason whatsoever to withdraw these people
at this time," said one, adding that whoever was responsible for the decision
had "very little" idea of the true situation in Cambodia.
Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh told the Post on Feb 6 that he regretted the
British decision and might have preferred it to have been made in consultation
with Cambodian authorities.
He suggested that if security was bad in some
provinces, a temporarily pull-out from those regions would have been
But he said he could not influence any country's decisions, nor
did he blame the British.
The British have justified their edict, relayed
to NGOs on Feb 1, on the basis that it is consistent with its advice to
Since November, British tourists have been advised not to come
to Cambodia and, if they do, not to venture out of Phnom Penh.
Embassy spokesman, who asked not to be named, said the latest decision could be
defended "on the security situation alone".
Pressed on whether provincial
security had worsened considerably since November, he said: "Can you put your
hand on your heart and say that the Khmer Rouge won't kill an NGO
The spokesman confirmed that British ambassador Paul
Reddicliffe was in touch with the Foreign Office but refused to say what advice
he was giving.
Sources say Reddicliffe had offered alternatives to the
Foreign Office but was largely ignored.
Diplomatic and business people
were wondering why the British even had an embassy in Phnom Penh, given that
visas were issued in Bangkok and "they don't even have a decent aid program to
In a Dec 3 letter to NGOs reiterating the London ruling,
Reddicliffe wrote that the "real threat" to Britons in the provinces left no
option but to strongly advise all such NGO workers to withdraw to Phnom
Funding from Britain's Overseas Development Agency (ODA) would be
frozen for all projects employing Britons or other foreigners "unless the
projects can be reorganized to exclude the need for expatriates outside Phnom
Penh" said the document.
Reddicliffe told the Post it might be possible
for expatriate staff to visit the provinces for "four or five days" at time to
Asked whether that, too, would be inconsistent with the
Foreign Office's tourist advice, he said it was not an ideal world and "quiet
diplomacy" was the best way to settle problems.
It is understood the
decision does not apply to the personnel and funding of Britain's United Nations
and the European Union commitments.
The hardest hit NGOs are Cambodian
British Teachers, 100 per cent ODA-funded, and Volunteer Services Abroad, 80 per
Other major NGO affected include Oxfam, Save the Children
Fund (UK), Concern, World Vision and Health Unlimited.
representatives sent a letter to the British Minister for Overseas Development,
the Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, who made the ruling, complaining of the
"sudden and unprecedented change of policy".
"If stabilizing Cambodia is
a prime objective of Her Majesty's Government, this action is directly contrary
to it," the letter said.
A similar letter was delivered to Reddicliffe at
the British embassy on Feb 7.
Joan Anderson of Save The Children Fund,
described the British decision as "paranoia."
"As of today your funding
has been frozen, bam... its absolutely crazy," she said. "There was no
opportunity for any dialogue."
"We are not irresponsible having expats
outside of Phnom Penh. We are not tourists, we are in a completely different
She said the British Embassy could not possibly believe
Cambodia's overall security situation had worsened.
Security had improved
"out-of-sight" since the November travel advise, she said.
O'Mahoney, field director of Irish-based Concern, said NGO workers could not be
compared with tourists. They had an information network and daily security
briefings that tourists did not.
"We do not think the security situation
warrants a withdrawal," she said, adding that the blanket order included regions
such as Ratanakiri, which "hasn't seen a Khmer Rouge since 1978".
funded aid work in far more dangerous countries such as Somalia and Rwanda, she
Concern's 24 expatriate staff in Cambodia's provinces were staying
there until a decision on their future was made by the NGO's head
In one project in Banteay Meanchey, Concern had three foreign
staff who were ODA-funded and two who were not.
"Do we withdraw three,
and say its unsafe for them, but the other two can carry on?"
She said it
made more sense to evacuate staff temporarily if security hot-spots flared up,
as Concern had done in Sisophon last April.
Meanwhile, United States
Ambassador Charles Twining has delivered a veiled threat to withdraw US NGOs
from Battambang province - but at the same time praising improvements in
security in other regions.
In a Feb 3 letter to the co-Prime Ministers,
obtained by the Post, Twining said the improvement of security in Siem Reap and
other provinces was a credit to the government.
However, he said he
continued to be concerned at the situation in Battambang, scene of repeated KR
attacks over recent weeks, and urged the government to take further
"I count upon the Royal Cambodian Government to take every
measure to improve the situation in Battambang's districts...so that there is
sufficient security to allow the NGO programs to continue to operate," he