Military Cuts To Miss Mark

Hun Sen Bemoans Lack of Donor Funds

Cambodia will fail to meet its end-of-year goal to demobilize more than 10,000 soldiers, said Prime Minister Hun Sen, who on Wednesday blamed the delay on a lack of donor money.

Despite assurances made earlier this year by the World Bank and other donors that millions of dollars would be pledged to the three-year, $40 million project to cut 30,000 soldiers, Hun Sen said the money has not materialized.

“People say Hun Sen has too many armed forces supporting him, but when he’s been asked to cut short the army, why do you not give the money to cut it?” Hun Sen asked during a graduation ceremony at the Royal Admini­stration School. “If you don’t want Hun Sen to be [militarily] strong, please pay the price,” he said.

Only an estimated 1,500 of Cam­bodia’s 131,000 soldiers have left the army this year under the demobilization pilot project. Hun Sen said he expects another 10,000 to be let go next year, and that the government is committed to reducing its military.

But observers have been skeptical of the prime minister’s willingness to give up a large part of what has historically been his power base, with one diplomatic official likening the demobilization to a “shell game.”

“The lines [between the police and military] are so murky it’s hard to tell what soldiers are being shifted where,” the official said, explaining that the government still has no clearly defined program to reduce its military.

Hun Sen’s claims that the demobilization program is lacking funds “is just another way to see if he can wrangle more [money] out of donors,” the official said.

The prime minister last criticized donors over demobilization in July. Three months later the World Bank pledged $15 million to the process.

Once the largest recipient of government money, the military has received a shrinking share of the budget in recent years, leaving military officials grumbling. Demobilized soldiers have also complained that the severance they do get from the government (about $243 plus some rice and household items) is not enough to start new lives as civilians.

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