Prime Minister Threatens To Bring Halt To Soldier Cuts

Prime Minister Hun Sen warn­ed Tuesday he will stop demobilizing soldiers because donors have put unrealistic demands on Cambodia and have not given the country the money needed to implement reforms.

“We no longer talk about troop demobilization,” he said at the opening of a hospital in Kandal province. “This is a message to the donors, because we cannot endure this.”

Slicing the size of the armed forces has been a top demand of the international donor community since the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1991.

Under a demobilization pilot program overseen by the World Bank, the government agreed to cut 1,500 soldiers in Kampot, Kom­pong Thom, Banteay Mean­chey and Battambang provinces. Each soldier is given about $240 and a supply of rice, fish, cooking oil and household items.

The first soldiers were demobil­i­zed in May in the southern province of Kampot. The last group in the pilot project—more than 420 soldiers in Bat­­tam­bang

—are scheduled to demobilize in a ceremony Satur­day.

Hun Sen said they will be the last to leave the army until donors come through with funding.

Eiji Yamamoto, counsellor at the Japanese Embassy, said the statement may have been a tactic to cull extra aid from donors. “I don’t think the prime minister decided officially to stop demobilization,” he said. “His intent is to encourage more assistance.”

Yamamoto said donor countries have no intention of stopping their support of demobilization.

Donors want to see 30,000 soldiers demobilized and 20,000 “ghost soldiers” cut from the payroll. This would reduce the armed forces to an estimated 100,000 troops. Many diplomats, however, have noted that the actual number of troops is far less than that, with the military over-reporting troop counts to acquire more funds from the government and donors.

The government balked for several years as troops fought with the Khmer Rouge, and politicians and generals used soldiers to protect their power bases. But with the peace of recent years and Hun Sen squarely in control, the government has been more willing to slash its armed forces.

Cambodia complied with de­mands of the international community and started the demobilization process, but donors have not kept their end of the bargain, Hun Sen charged.

“Until now the donors have not given us a cent.”

Co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath said demobilization can only happen with outside help. “It has always been our concern how to get people out of RCAF if we do not have the means to turn them into civilians,” he said. “That can only be done with the help and assistance of the World Bank and the international community.”

The $240 for each soldier was taken from the Ministry of De­fense budget, but it is unclear whether the government was to be reimbursed by donors, Prince Sirirath said.

The World Bank could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Hun Sen said the government would give each demobilized soldier another $500, even if the government has to pay out of its own budget. “Two hundred forty dollars is not enough,” he said.

The World Bank originally suggested each soldier receive $1,200. But donor countries said that was too much.

Demobilization is just one of the problems facing Cambodia, which has one of the world’s poorest populations and suffers from under-developed health, education and judicial systems.

At a June meeting in Paris, donors pledged $548 million to Cam­bodia in the coming year.

Hun Sen said that isn’t enough to fix the country’s problems.

If Cambodia could cut 30,000 soldiers over the next three years, the money saved could boost the health and education budgets, or help farmers plant rice over thousands of hectares of land, Hun Sen said.

But so far, he said, the donor community does not see these benefits.

“They lay on this condition or that condition, too many conditions which gives me a head­ache,” he said. “So we have to try to walk ourselves.”

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