Government To Start Demobilization Effort

The government is ready to transfer 400 soldiers from military service to civilian life today in Kompong Chhnang in what officials are calling the first phase in a massive demobilization effort.

More than 30,000 soldiers will be demobilized by the end of 2002, Prince Sisowath Sirirath, co-minister of the Ministry of Defense, said Sunday. The entire effort will cost $42 million, the prince said.

“This is the first time the government will be going forward with the demobilization effort. Each week we will try to demobilize at least 1,200 to 1,500 soldiers,” Sisowath Sirirath said.

Fifteen thousand soldiers will be demobilized in the first phase, which will last until December. Phase two, which will also affect 15,000 troops, is scheduled to begin in January and continue throughout the year, the prince said.

One reason the government is demobilizing only 15,000 soldiers in all of 2002 is because the government is still waiting for donor money, Prince Sirirath said.

Demobilization has stalled for years because of civil war, the 1997 factional fighting and the lack of money. Now, with $18 million secured from the World Bank and donor countries including Japan and Sweden for this year’s demobilizations, the government is finally ready to begin the transfers, the prince said.

Bonaventure Mbida-Essama, country head of the World Bank, said the World Bank will contribute $18.2 million to the two-year effort, while the government‘s share will be $7.2 million.

Each demobilized soldier will receive $240 and about $1,160 worth of goods, including three 50 kg bags of rice; 10 kg of cooking oil; and building material and tools, the prince said.

“We are giving them things they can build a settlement out of,” he said.

While this is the first official demobilization effort, Prince Sirirath said the government started a pilot project in 2000 in which 1,500 soldiers returned to civilian life. One of the problems encountered during that project was monitoring the progress of the ex-soldiers as they moved from district to district, the prince said.

“The Cambodian military is different than other armies in the world—it is not like the Green Berets in America where you know their exact location all the time. It is very difficult to track them,” he said.

 

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