PRIVATE squabbles and in-fighting among donors have brought demobilization reforms
almost to a standstill, according to diplomatic sources.
When the government meets the donors at the quarterly reform meeting at the end of
this month, the red faces and excuses may be on the other side of the table, for
once: arguments among the donors over the details of the demobilization plan are
threatening the second phase of the reform program, despite the government having
almost finished the first phase of demobilization, that of registering the soldiers.
"There has been difficulty in getting a plan that donors and the government
can agree to at this stage," said one western diplomat.
He cited a range of issues for the delay, including the fact that the original planning
was begun back in 1996. But the main bone of contention that has the donors divided
is the $1,200 demobilization fee, drawn up by the World Bank, which is due to be
paid to each soldier who leaves the army.
"There's a lot of nervousness about the 1,200 dollar payout, how it would work,
whether it would have the effect which is intended for it. And I understand that
there is nervousness on both sides [government and donors]," said the diplomat.
The calculation was based on the requirements of a typical demobilizing soldier,
using examples from other countries. But donors are nervous that the cash payout
could herald a rush of "ghost soldiers" or other non-eligible people, keen
for a share of the riches.
According to one source, the Germans and the Swedes are considering going ahead with
their own demobilization plan, independently of the working group. However, neither
the German Embassy nor the Swedish development agency SIDA would comment.
Bonaventure Mbida-Essama, acting chief of the World Bank's Cambodia office, which
heads the demobilization working group, said that it was a "sensitive issue"
that he could not comment on.
"We have conveyed our views to the government, and we want the government to
take the lead on this.
"They are working very hard to make effort - but if we make a pronouncement
it might disrupt the delicate situation which we are at now," he said.
The division points to tensions surfacing across the donor community as the actual
business of implementing the reforms gets under way.
A second diplomat noted that there were in fact problems surfacing in other reform
"Generally, you could say that the reform groups are slipping," the diplomat
said. There are delays in deadlines, and these are the fault of the donors as well,
not just the government."
In civil administration reform, for example, the completion of phase one, which deals
with census and personnel profiles, analysis of ministries, development of career
paths for civil servants and the establishment of an appropriate remuneration system,
has been delayed by six months until the end of July 2000.
Referring to the working groups in general, Bill Costello, First Secretary (Development
Cooperation) at the Australian Embassy, said there was still time for a "flurry
of activity between now and the 27th", but said he felt that the commitment
was still there, even though the "actual progress on implementation is slower
than might have been promised or expected."
"We're still on the track, just moving more slowly down the track than we might
have hoped," he explained.
In addition to the four main working groups, the donors have created a "rule
of law contact group" which looks at issues not covered by the other groups.
Although not officially a working group, donors will request that the government
allow for the opportunity to discuss judicial and human rights issues at the meeting.
"At the last meeting the government advised it was creating a fifth reform council
on judicial reform," said Costello. "We're hoping there will be a progress
report on that issue that we can respond to."
Possible rule-of-law issues up for discussion at the CG meeting include the Khmer
Rouge tribunal, the CMAC scandal, and progress on commune elections, although none
of these have been confirmed.
Several diplomats agreed that the atmosphere at the coming meeting might be less
convivial than the first meeting in June, now that the real work of reforms was beginning.
Said one, "To some degree, the honeymoon's over. Now comes the hard part of
making the marriage work."
Meanwhile, in Washington the US Congress has passed a bill which, if approved by
the President, could place further obstacles in the way of funding to Cambodia.
Section 573a of the bill reads: "The secretary of the Treasury should instruct
the United States executive directors of the international financial institutions
to use the voice and vote of the United States to oppose loans to the Central Government
of Cambodia, except loans to support basic human needs."
Such a bill may hamper the progress of both World Bank and IMF loans, according to
But according to the World Bank's Mbida-Essama, the bill, if passed as it stands,
would "normally affect activities, but with our programs there can always be
He said he believed that the World Bank management and the US could "work out
However, a long-standing Washington-based Cambodia-watcher was adamant that the legislation
would prove a stumbling block for the government, and linked current human rights
issues with the US stance.
"The actions of the US congress are a clear indication that Capitol Hill is
not buying Hun Sen's rhetoric on political and economic reform," he said by
"The same week law-makers finalize the bill, an SRP MP goes missing and even
more nonsense on a domestic KR trial emanates from Phnom Penh. Talk is cheap in Cambodia,
and in Washington actions speak louder than words.
"The Cambodian government has a lot to prove before aid is resumed, and it can
begin by arresting those who committed gross human rights abuses in 1997 and 1998."