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Demobilization needs more help from civil society

Demobilization needs more help from civil society

A two-day conference on the lessons learned from the army demobilization and

reintegration program heard that the role of civil society was vital to ensure

the process succeeded and that former soldiers were able to maintain a decent

standard of living.

"Civil society is uniquely qualified to perform two

critical functions," said Eric Kessler, the resident representative of the

National Democratic Institute on June 11. "Building public confidence in the

demobilization effort and providing support services for demobilized soldiers,

their families and a more streamlined military."

Cambodia is in the midst

of a nationwide program to demobilize tens of thousands of the country's bloated

military. Some 15,000 soldiers have been stood down so far, and around 40,000

more are set to go.

The program has been criticized by some observers as

demobilizing thousands of non-existent 'ghost' soldiers, created to stuff the

pockets of high-ranking military personnel.

The government was criticised

by participants, particularly aimed at defense officials and those running the

government's Council for Demobilization of Armed Forces (CDAF). One participant,

speaking anonymously, said the fact that neither the CDAF nor the government

turned up spoke volumes.

"We are disappointed because neither the defense

ministry nor the CDAF came here to take part in our discussions, or to hear the

thoughts of civil society," he said.

Huot Ratanak, executive director of

the Open Forum of Cambodia, urged that NGOs and government work together to find

ways to provide skills that demobilized soldiers could live on, rather than

simply give them resources that typically lasted only a short time.

"[We]

should provide them with fish hooks rather than just give them a fish," she

said. "As members of civil society we are happy to cooperate with the government

if the programs we run relate to the demobilization process."

Ratanak

also urged NGOs, private companies and the other institutions to give priority

to former soldiers where they were suitable candidates, much as they have done

with women applicants.

And a senior researcher at the Cambodian Institute

for Cooperation and Peace (CICP), Samrang Komsan, said civil society should

undertake research on the specific difficulties and needs of demobilized

soldiers, providing them cash and materials, develop their local communities,

find markets for their produce, and encourage local authorities to assist

wherever possible.

Komsan added that help with obtaining micro-finance

would also be welcome, as would the attention of the National Assembly and the

Senate in dealing with development and poverty alleviation for former

soldiers.

Boua Chanthou, the executive director of the Partnership for

Development in Kampuchea (PADEK), chaired the session that focused on the

participation of civil society. She said lack of funds for local NGO was an

important factor limiting their ability to help.

"Local NGOs receive only

10 percent of the funding that goes to international NGOs each year," she said,

and asked that Germany's GTZ and the World Food Programme should ensure

conditions were more suitable for local NGOs to participate in the

demobilization process.

She said that PADEK works with 200 impoverished

villages. Its operations favored demobilized soldiers in areas such as literacy

and development.

"We do not discriminate against [demobilized soldiers],"

she said. "Our policy is to provide them in advance with the opportunity to

participate in literacy training and other development skills."

Dr Kao

Kim Hourn, executive director of CICP, said the workshop's recommendations would

be sent to the government, donors, and other institutions involved in

demobilization.

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