Demobilization Will Be Costly, Official Says

Launching a two-day workshop to evaluate the pilot demobilization program of 1,500 soldiers, Minister of Cabinet Sok An called on donors Thursday to begin im­mediate preparations to disburse funds for the government to drum out 30,000 soldiers in the next two years.

Sok An said the pilot program’s main problems were merely of a “technical and procedural” na­ture, meaning donors should have no reason to withhold support from the full demobilization program.

“I would like to suggest that a clear timetable of funding and disbursement for this full-scale program should also be officially brought to the attention of the government,” he said.

Sok An said $22.5 million is needed for the demobilization of 15,000 troops in 2001. Another 15,000 troops will be demobilized in 2002, costing an additional $22.5 million.

Toshiko Horiuchi, first secretary at the Japanese Embassy, called the results of the pilot project “the first step in terms of a concrete commitment,” but ad­ded that a decision to fund the full demobilization program will be based on further reviews.

Bonaventure Mbida-Essama, chief of the World Bank’s Cam­bodian country office, urged donor representatives at Thursday’s workshop to heed the call to begin the full demobilization program.

“The ideal outcome would be the conviction from all of us that the road traveled so far has been worth it and [that] we have the confidence to decide now to look forward to the future and proceed with the full imposition [of] the project,” Mbida-Essama said.

He warned that stalling the project or reducing its scope now could be detrimental to the future well-being of Cambodian society if demobilized soldiers are not integrated adequately.

Svay Sitha, the Council of Mini­sters’ undersecretary of state and general secretary of the Council for Demobilization of Armed Forces, said the pilot program and the “lessons learned” will form the basis for the full-scale demobilization program.

The pilot program has faced problems with funding for reintegration packages—materials needed by former soldiers after they leave the military—which has been slowed by stringent procurement guidelines.

Only $360,000 of a slated $2.1 million for the pilot project’s de­mobilization and reintegration programs has been disbursed, Svay Sitha said. The remaining funds have been pledged but are stalled in bureaucratic channels, he added.

“We could not get this [assistance] at one time, because different countries provided at different times with different procedures,” Svay Sitha said.

To ease procurement difficulties, the process for accessing donor funds needs to be streamlined, he added.

In the pilot project, each soldier was given $240, some food and household goods, including mosquito nets, hoes and axes.

Money was also put into community development in some areas targeted during the pilot project.

A demobilization expert said Thursday that without firm commitment from the donor countries, the government’s demobilization plan will not succeed.

Frustrated with donor foot-dragging on the issue, Prime Minister Hun Sen recently requested a $12-million loan from China to begin the program.

 

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