Canberra Foreign minister Gareth Evans has pitched in with Australian $20,000 to
help a former aide to Prince Norodom Sihanouk set up a pro-democracy, non-profit
education, research and training center in the capital.
Julio Jeldres, who left the royal household last year after serving the former monarch
for more than a decade, said the Khmer Institute of Democracy's immediate aim is
to: "Make Khmers familiar with the modus operandi of a democratic government."
A longer term plan would be to turn the Institute-the brainchild of Cambodian exiles
in California-into a "think tank that can help successive governments,"
added Jeldres who is the organization's acting director and a naturalized Australian
Democracy has been an alien concept for so many years in Cambodia and the ll-member
board of the Institute (five Cambodians and six foreigners, to be with the ex-officio
representation by each of the four major political factions, aims to rectify this
by promoting widespread discussion on the topic. Public seminars, workshops and debates
will be major vehicles for propagating democratic ideals and principles, with university
students a key initial target.
The Institute will also sponsor education research to promote democracy as the nation
prepares for its first multi-party general elections in years, and build up a corps
of local teachers to spread the word and foster democratic values at the grass-roots
At the same time the Institute will open up links with other fledgling independent
organizations sponsoring human rights and make contact with political parties-more
than a dozen at the last count.
"Prince Sihanouk approved establishment of the Institute in Phnom Penh on Jan.
16 and on Aug. 12 he gave permission for my appointment as acting director,"
said Jeldres, who held the rank of ambassador when he quit the royal service in December.
Start-up funding has come from different sources in Australia and North America,
including the generous gift from peace plan architect Evans and several thousand
dollars from private donors in the United States.