A STALEMATE over who should receive foreign aid is threatening Cambodia's tenuous peace.
Eight months after a big-power treaty ended the civil war, sharp clashes have opened up among 32 potential donor nations and four Cambodian factions over how to distribute an anticipated $2 billion of aid to rebuild the war-torn country. The factions want to ensure the aid is not spent in a way which benefits any one of them politically, since United Nations-sponsored elections are slated for next April or May.
Khmer Rouge guerrilla leaders planned to boycott a 32-nation conference on Cambodian aid in Tokyo today, objecting to $111 million being allocated to the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge have used their aid demand as an excuse not to participate in a UN program to disarm all Cambodian soldiers that was to have started this month.
"The situation is still quite uncertain," says Seiji Morimoto, a Japanese foreign ministry official. Pro-Sihanouk aid?
A number of private aid agencies, meanwhile, have protested that Western nations may be trying to help former Cambodian leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk win the election by planning to direct aid to provinces where pro-Sihanouk refugees are returning and where pro-Western guerrilla forces have been strong.
The European Community, says one American aid worker, has already begun to spend $8 million in four northwestern provinces of Battambang, Pursat, Siem Reap, and Banteay Men Chey. These provinces are expected to receive most of the 350,000 refugees returning from a decade-long encampment on the Thai border where they were outside the influence of the Communist regime installed by invading Vietnamese troops in 1980.
About 32,000 refugees have been repatriated so far, with another 11,000 due by the end of June, according to the UN. Roughly 25,000 will be returned each month, although the pace will depend on demining vast tracts of Cambodia. Only about 7 percent of the land required for resettlement in the four western provinces has been cleared of mines.
"There are poor everywhere in Cambodia, not just those who are being repatriated," says Joel Charny, overseas program director for Oxfam America.
Delays in repatriation, aid, and disarming the Khmer Rouge could bring renewed fighting and delay elections aimed at uniting Cambodia under a new government and ending UN oversight.
Cambodia's decade-long civil war ended with a treaty signed in Paris last October by China, the US, France, Britain, and the then-Soviet Union. The countries agreed that aid should be evenly distributed around the country.
Until a new government is installed after the elections, the foreign aid and military control will be coordinated by the officials and troops of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). In April, the UN secretary-general asked donor nations to contribute $595 million for the rehabilitation phase, which is aimed at providing "basic human needs" and repairing "existing" infrastructure.
Some money would also be used to register Cambodians to vote. The biggest spending, however, is an estimated $150 million aimed at rebuilding roads, water systems, bridges, ports, and others facilities. Other programs will go to train bureaucrats, improve schools, boost rice production, and resettle refugees.
After a new government takes over, UN officials hope to have in place a new body, the International Committee on Reconstruction of Cambodia (ICORC), to coordinate the next phase of foreign aid known as reconstruction. The total aid bill by then is expected to exceed $2 billion. Japan to show leadership
The conference in Tokyo is the second within three months to take up the problem of the amount and direction of foreign aid. As host to the aid talks, Japan plans to make the largest donation in hopes of showing leadership on a regional dispute in Asia, but the exact amount has been uncertain because of the dispute over which faction will benefit most from aid.
Japan also hopes the Khmer Rouge will cooperate so that it can send about 2,000 troops to Cambodia to work with UNTAC. A law allowing such a military dispatch for the first time since World War II was passed last week, although the law prohibits Japanese soldiers from working in dangerous situations.