2,000 Troops To Get Axed

As many as 2,000 soldiers will be demobilized and settled in Kampot province later in the year as part of a larger scaling back of Cambodia’s military, according to the World Bank.

The demobilization, tentatively scheduled to begin in December, is the start of an effort to eventually reintegrate 40 percent of the country’s total military personnel into local communities, the development bank’s officials said.

The stepping down of a total of 55,000 military personnel by 2003 was mandated by the international community and is directly tied to the money received from donor countries. The effort is being coordinated by the World Bank.

While one World Bank official said the armed forces possibly employ as many as 135,000 troops, other estimates range from thousans more to less than 100,000.

The first CPP-Funcinpec coalition government, which ruled from 1993-97, failed to make progress on demobilization efforts and never tapped donor funds set aside for the major task. But the new government has pledged to do better.

“If you don’t find ghost soldiers and cut military personnel, what countries will donate to Cam­bodia?” Defense co-Minister Prince Sisowath Sirirath asked Tuesday. “This is very important to us.”

The government is conducting a nationwide registration on soldiers—including under-age, over-age and disabled combatants—in part of the demobilization process, Nat Colletta, manager of the worldwide World Bank post-conflict program, said earlier this month.

The registration, during which each soldier is given a military ID card and information on RCAF personnel is entered into a computer, is expected to be completed by November, Colletta said by telephone from Washington.

The process will eliminate ghost soldiers and demobilize actual ones, World Bank technical adviser Yip Hak Kwong said.

Identification issuance in Military Region 4, based in Siem Reap town, has been completed and Military Region 5 in Battambang town is expected to be done by mid-August, he said.

So far the Cambodia Veterans Assist­ance Program under the Council of Ministers has registered about 25,000 individuals in the computer system, he said.

Since earlier this year, the government has documented the on-paper existence of roughly 12,800 ghost soldiers, said Prince Sisowath Sirirath.

Information in the computer database, such as family background, education and vocational skills, will be used for planning demobilization assistance, Yip Hak Kwong said.

In the pilot program, after trading their military IDs for civilian IDs, demobilized soldiers and their families will be re-integrated into communities of their choosing in Kampot province, World Bank officials said. All will be given a one-year transitional safety net of money, food, shelter, and educational and vocational training. Job counseling and placement will follow a soldier’s settling down in a community, and local authorities will be in charge of providing land, according to World Bank officials.

The pilot demobilization project will cost roughly $4 million and will be financed by both the World Bank and the German Agency for Technical Coopera­tion, Colletta said.

The armed forces’ full-scale demobilization project, expected to be under way by 2001, is estimated to cost $100 million, though organizers say that figure could change.

The government and the World Bank are scheduled to hold a public forum in November to review the registration process and finalize details on the pilot demobilization project.

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