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CMAC cash crisis raises deminer ire

CMAC cash crisis raises deminer ire

DEMINING platoons of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) were fuming this week

due to a delay of more than two weeks in their August salaries.

The delay in payment to the 2000 CMAC employees in the field, whose duties of locating

and defusing land mines and UXO (unexploded ordnance) form the raison d'etre of CMAC,

prompted rumors to circulate of a planned mass protest by unpaid CMAC staff in front

of the National Assembly.

While the rumored protest didn't occur, the payment delay has caused considerable

concern among the foreign technical advisers who oversee the work of the deminers.

"This is the second month that the payment has been delayed," a technical

assistant from Kampong Chhnang told the Post. "Last month the pay was delayed

for twenty days ... It's really affecting the [deminers]."

CMAC personnel in Battambang also registered alarm at the delay in payment to deminers,

voicing fears that the delay in payment could adversely affect demining operations.

According to Lieutenant-General Khem Sophoan, Director-General of CMAC, the recent

payment delays were an unfortunate consequence of "ongoing reform" under

way in the Financial Department of CMAC's Phnom Penh headquarters.

Sophoan pointed to an ongoing audit of CMAC finances by the accounting firm KPMG

as another factor in the salary payment delay.

"Our Financial Department has been busy cooperating with KPMG and there's been

little time for other work," Sophoan said.

Sophoan told the Post on Sep 13 that he had "signed the paychecks" and

that deminers were to receive their salaries on Sep 15.

Cooperation with KPMG auditors is but one of 32 demands of donor countries presented

to CMAC management in a "Donor Draft Framework for Normalization of Relations

with CMAC".

Donors have served notice to CMAC - beset for months by allegations of operational

and management irregularities and fraud on every level - that fulfillment of donor

demands is required for a resumption of currently frozen donor funding to the demining

agency.

CMAC currently has only enough operating funds to pay salaries and continue normal

operations until the end of October.

A CMAC source described the anger of deminers as "completely understandable".

"All the staff in CMAC headquarters were paid on time," the source said.

"The people who are out in the field risking their lives doing demining work

are having to wait for their pay without being told the reasons."

Sophoan acknowledged that CMAC headquarters staff had been paid on time, but attributed

it to the differing amounts of money involved.

"The amount of money necessary to pay [CMAC] headquarters staff is much less

than that to pay the demining units," Sophoan explained.

Meanwhile, CMAC efforts to comply with the key donor demand of resolving allegations

that CMAC demining units in Kampot and Kampong Speu were involved in "contract

demining" for individuals such as former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin and

current RCAF Chief of Staff Ke Kim Yan remain stalled.

Two weeks after the environmental watchdog NGO Global Witness was approached to provide

a neutral, third party appraisal of demining operations in Kampot and Kampong Speu,

Global Witness Director Patrick Alley remained non-committal regarding whether he

would accept Sophoan's offer to lead the investigation.

In a phone interview from Global Witness's headquarters in London, Alley said the

group "hasn't made a decision one way or another" whether to investigate

possible CMAC wrongdoing.

Alley admitted the "political nuances" of the CMAC scandal in Kampot and

Kampong Speu were figuring prominently in his consideration of whether to become

involved.

"We have to consider whether we want to get into a political minefield as well

as an actual minefield," he said.

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