Demining Donors in Doubt?

Donors to the Cambodian Mine Action Center are remaining largely quiet about an emerging standoff between themselves and the Cambodian government over who should bear the burden of supporting the financially failing demining agency.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has proposed cutting 90 percent of CMAC’s staff without an almost immediate resumption of donor funds.

But this potential death sentence for the country’s largest demining agency seemed to have little effect on the stance of donors, who are urging the government to release more money to CMAC rather than rely primarily on international aid.

“Lots of donors are looking for a significant contribution from the government,” said Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot, though he would not comment on Hun Sen’s proposal or how much of the CMAC’s $1.5 million fourth quarter expenses the donors expect from the government to pay for.

Hun Sen has only agreed to auth­­orize the release of $50,000 so far, and CMAC senior officials say more money from the govern­­­­­­­­­ment is unlikely, despite a Monday night meeting with the prime minister to try and solicit more funds.

“This is politics being played. The government wants more donor assistance and the donors want more government money,” CMAC Chairman Ieng Mouly complained Wednesday.

As the government tries to get more money out of donors, it is also trying establish itself, not the UN Develop­ment Prog­ram, as CMAC’s driving force.

Several Cambodian CMAC officials maintain the agency should fall completely under Cambodian control. But both donors and Ieng Mouly are questioning the fairness of this.

“The donors are right to ask the government for more money. This is what ownership means,” Ieng Mouly said.

The trade-off for more government money, according to Ieng Mouly, will be greater power for CMAC’s governing council. This policy-making arm was only formed in the beginning of this year and has yet to assume real authority.

“Right now the governing council is playing the rubber stamp,” Ieng Mouly said. “The governing council certainly wants to do more. For the first time we want to work and we get no support [from the government or donors].”

So far, Australia is the only donor country to release funding to CMAC, pledging $300,000 to the agency earlier this week.

Though he said he couldn’t comment on Hun Sen’s proposal, Australian Ambassador Malcolm Leader did say the donor community does not want to see CMAC fold but was unsure if funding would come from any other countries.


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