Military’s Plan To Downsize Moves Slowly

More than eight months after donors agreed to help fund the downsizing of Cambodia’s military, they are still waiting for a viable government plan spelling out who will be demobilized and exactly how it will work.

Since July, virtually no work has been done on developing a pilot program because of communication problems, donor disputes, and a government refusal to modify its demand donors provide $1,200 to compensate every demobilized soldier, several donors say.

The government demobilization committee ‘‘has not done anything. It has also not provided the information requested on the registration process,” according to an Oct 12 internal donor working group memorandum.

One of the reasons, the memo explains, is ‘‘the apparent determination not to revisit the Transi­tional Safety Net that the donors have rejected its current form of US$1,200 cash payment.”

Government officials and donors met en masse at the Coun­cil of Ministers building Thursday for the first time since June. After the meeting, government officials denied there were any problems. Several donors say a three-month logjam was broken when officials promised to work on a long-requested proposal for a pilot plan, and said they would consider alternative ways to compensate demobilized soldiers.

“There’s still a lot of questions to be answered,’’ said a representative of the Asian Develop­ment Bank after the meeting. ‘‘But at least now they have said they are willing to reconsider the question of how soldiers will be assisted. The process has to move forward, but it is quite difficult.’’

Representatives of international lending institutions, foreign countries, and NGOs are in town for meetings to review government progress in wide-ranging reforms that include a crackdown on illegal logging, and administrative reform, among other things.

The meetings, which will culminate next week in a plenary session, are the second since donors pledged $470 million of conditional aid in February.

Donors made military demobilization a key request in their demands, noting that military expenditures account for 50 percent of the government budget, and that military downsizing is a crucial to long term stability.

But the $1,200 in cash per soldier payment proposed by the government is roughly equivalent to seven years salary for most soldiers, one donor said. And since July, there ‘‘has not been any progress” by the government on efforts to develop a plan for how to move ahead with the development of a pilot program that would use a different compensation system, the memo stated.

In addition to failing to come up with a plan, the government has not responded to donor offers for help in developing one, some donors said.

At the meeting Thursday, however, government officials agreed to reconsider the compensation package, and again promised to come up with a pilot program. A World Bank consultant began working with the government’s demobilization commission earlier this month, and may help.

Bonaventure Mbida-Essama, acting chief of the World Bank Cambodia resident office, and the chairman of the donor working group, downplayed the concerns.

‘‘There has been problems, nobody denies that. But there has been a substantial change,’’ he said. ‘‘And you always have problems. The donors and government have found ways to solve them. Donors have told the government we want to help be constructive and they want to play ball.’’

Colonel Dougall McMillan, the Australian Embassy’s military attache, attributed the delays to disputes among the donors themselves.

‘‘Neither the government nor the World Bank has been able to convince donors to put forth the money because questions remain unanswered, such as the identity of those to be demobilized and what criteria will be used and over what period of time,” he said.

Svay Sitha, a key member of the government demobilization committee, noted that the government has cut off payments to 15,551 ghost soldiers, and found thousands more names who were listed twice on the rolls.

He said he is confident the government will have a pilot demobilization program in place soon that would demobilize 1,500 soldiers by early 2,000.

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