Prime Minister Hun Sen asked China Wednesday to help cut the country’s bloated military by providing a $12.5-million loan for demobilization.
The slow materialization of funds promised for demobilization by donor countries led to Hun Sen’s request, made during a meeting Wednesday morning with visiting Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian, government officials said.
Eang Sophalleth, a member of Hun Sen’s Cabinet, said the prime minister asked Chi Haotian to personally “send his proposal to the Chinese premier.”
Chi Haotian promised to deliver the request, he added.
Svay Sitha, secretary-general of the government’s demobilization committee and undersecretary of state for the Council of Ministers, said the government appealed to the Chinese because of the apparent foot-dragging by donor countries.
Donors have funded the demobilization of 1,500 RCAF soldiers in Kampot, Kompong Thom, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces. But further funds to demobilize a planned 30,000 troops have not been delivered, Svay Sitha said.
“Donors have only made commitments but have not provided the funds. That is why Hun Sen has asked [for] aid from China,” Svay Sitha said.
He said the government is determined to demobilize 15,000 this year and the same amount next year. “Even without [donor] money the government will push this ahead,” Svay Sitha said.
Cutting back the military is considered one of the government’s most important reform priorities. The government and donors have spent years negotiating how best to lay off and compensate the demobilized soldiers. The government says there are between 130,000 and 150,000 soldiers, but some diplomats say the number may be less than 100,000.
Hoping to push the project forward, the World Bank in September pledged $15 million for demobilization. That was expected to encourage other donors to contribute to the mammoth project, which is estimated to cost a total of $40 million.
Bonaventure Mbida-Essama, the World Bank’s country officer, said Wednesday that money has been committed by donors and the bank, but assessments of the demobilization pilot program must be completed before the project advances.
“[Donors] agreed that after [the pilot project] was implemented …we would evaluate it, review the results and try to use the lessons learned to formulate the bigger program,” Mbida-Essama said.
The needs of demobilized soldiers must be met, with services delivered fairly and transparently, Mbida-Essama said.
“We need to know if the pilot succeeded. To know what mistakes were made,” he said. “That the process is transparent, accountable and there is no corruption.
“These are standards,” he said. “It does not happen overnight.”
The Defense Ministry is tentatively scheduled to hold a workshop with donors on March 1 and March 2 to discuss the pilot project, Mbida-Essama said. Based on the results of the workshop, donors will assess their commitment to demobilization.
An Asian diplomat based in Phnom Penh said Wednesday that no firm commitments on a disbursement timetable were made when demobilization was discussed at the recent donors’ meeting in Phnom Penh.
“If the government cannot get [funding] from the donors they will try and get it from elsewhere. Especially if there are less conditions,” the diplomat said.