D EMING groups-arguably doing the most important work to rebuild a shattered
Cambodia-are battling for shrinking funds.
The groups are vying for cash
from some of the same donors, fostering criticism and competition which they all
say is draining attention from the job at hand.
While investors are
lining up to build multi-million dollar casinos, Cambodia's deminers are
scrounging to find the roughly $10 million a year it takes to run the country's
three biggest humanitarian demining organizations.
And they say Cambodia
is now competing with other countries such as Angola and Mozambique for demining
"After the elections Cambodia slipped off the of the media
table," said one demining chief.
Halo Trust has just pulled through one
financial crisis (having lost Swiss donors Pro Victimis, before replacing them
with the Finnish government) and is facing two cuts in funding latter this
year-unless it can find new benefactors.
The Mines Advisory Group (MAG)
also spends much of its time on public relations to drum up cash. Neither MAG
nor Halo would say how much it cost to run their operations.
organisation that draws the most attention is the Cambodian Mine Action Center
(CMAC), the country's leading deminer.
Often condemned for getting off to
a slow start during the UNTAC period, CMAC now has a staff of 1,558 and a
monthly operating budget of $500,000.
But as it approaches the planned
pullout of foreign advisers in April 1996, CMAC is facing some stiff
Internal documents reveal the centre has to face up to several
key failings - including a surfeit of unskilled staff and a lack of internal
investigation which has left thefts undealt with and led to an inconsistent
approach to probing accidents.
This month, CMAC director Ieng Mouly went
to the Paris ICORC meeting to try to convince donors to come through with $7
million they had already been pledged but was never delivered.
only $4.3 million, leaving CMAC scrambling to make up a $3-million
"The future is a bit obscure," says Lt. Col. Serge Léveillé,
CMAC's chief technical adviser, adding the centre could face a layoff of up to
15 staff and the cancellation of plans to test mechanical demining and the use
of dog teams. But he believes that is improving enough to ensure
March also saw a salary shuffle in which several senior
staffers took pay cuts of more than ten per cent, prompting at least one skilled
computer operatior to quit.
Meanwhile, centre planners are scrambling to
find new sources of funding to keep CMAC going beyond April
Léveillé says a strategy paper to be published in July will likely
outline options such as a tax of up to one per cent on all new investments in
Cambodia, with the revenue dedicated to demining; a significant increase on the
$400,000 the Royal government currently gives CMAC and an increase in so-called
CMAC is currently raising extra revenue by demining
along Highway 4 for Fischbach International's construction project. The profits
are to be plowed back in to CMAC's humanitarian demining program.
director Chris Horwood warns that commercial demining could change the sector
irreversibly. "Once you bring commercial contracts into demining, you are going
to destroy the qualitative base of humanitarian demining in Cambodia.... it
should be carefully monitored."
In particular, Horwood warns that the
recent entry of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) into humanitarian
demining-through a $1 million training program provided by United States-simply
duplicates what CMAC is already doing.
"I would be extremely loath to see
the military to take an important role in mine clearance. Mine clearance
requires integrity and above all, competence... It gives the capacity to the
military to get involved in contract demining, mockery of CMAC being the central
agency of demining."
General Lay Bun Song, RCAF chief of international
relations, says there are plenty of mines to go around.
soldiers relax in front of what we call the critical problem?"
whether RCAF had plans to get into so-called commercial demining-a business in
which it could easily push CMAC to the sidelines-the general said: "No. No. Not
yet. We just started. In the future, I think."
Capt. Michael Zikes,
demining assistance coordinator with the current US special forces team in
Cambodia, said the RCAF engineering corps' three demining units are no threat to
CMAC's 41 platoons.
"I think people are just worried about RCAF in
general. I don't see them superseding CMAC."
Meanwhile, some observers
warn that the scramble for cash has put pressure on the centre to bend over
backwards to impress potential donors.
Horwood says CMAC's claim to have
reduced mine casualties to 50 per month-down from 300-is wildly
At the Paris donors' meeting Mouly revised that figure to
"between 50 and 150 per month now."
"These starts are not valid ... in
January there were at least 300, and at least 400 injuries and deaths in
February," insists Horwood, adding his figures do not include military
casualties from Anlong Veng.
"The results are quits small. Lets be clear
about it so people realize how painstaking it is ... the donors have to wake up
to the fact we're talking about long term funding."
Léveillé admits the
figure of 50 casualties is too low, saying the number is more likely
"There were more than that last month in Battambang alone," says
"Nobody in Cambodia can confirm the exact number of casualties,"
says Léveillé, adding CMAC made its estimate based on information from the
Cambodian Red Cross.
"Why would we under-report? If the picture is bad,
we're likely to get more funds."
French deminers COFRAS have no such
problem with funds, getting eight million francs per year for their work which
centers around the Angkor temples and some villages.
Tim Porter of Halo
said that the work COFRAS was doing was "not as high priority from a
humanitarian development standpoint as is clearing villages and
COFRAS chief Jean Pierre Billault said "that is a joke", and
that COFRAS' work had economic importance. "If some Japanese or English or
Canadian tourist stepped on a mine, what happens? Nobody comes. Is that
humanitarian or only archeological demining?"