Asian Wall Street Journal_Editorial_1992


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Wednesday, August 19, 1992
Cambodia Caught In Minefield Of U.N. Bureaucracy - By Peter S. Crosby
“The U.N. has the mandate, money and authority to do a great deal more than it has to clear mines in Cambodia. What it lacks is the will.”

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Asian Wall Street Journal_Editorial_1992

  1. 1. THE ASIAN WALL STREET JOURNAL Wednesday, August 19, 1992Cambodia Caught In Minefield Of U.N. BureaucracyBy Peter S. Crosby“The U.N. has the mandate, money and authority to do a great deal more than it has to clearmines in Cambodia. What it lacks is the will.”PHNOM PENH - A French colonel, sweat-stained and frustrated, shakes his head as 30 dust-smudged Cambodian deminers push a decrepit truck, complete with bolts for tire patches, up thehill from the site for refugee resettlement. “If they knew our commanders pay them out of theirown pockets,” the Legionnaire murmurs, “Mon Dieu!”Paying wages out of personal funds is beyond the call of duty for the senior military officersworking with the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia. But after a three-monthstruggle with U.N. Indecision and legal myopia, the money budgeted for defining under the Parispeace plan signed In October still was not available. For the officers responsible for commandingUNTACs defining effort, the choice was to pay up or stop work. They paid.In fact, 85% of the 600 or so Cambodians trained to demine by UNTAC have yet to work ontheir mine-littered land. The few on the Job, Including the French colonels crew, work forunderfunded charities or nongovernmental organizations.So 10 months after the signing of the Paris accords, fewer than 25,000 of Cambodias land mines- very roughly estimated at one to two million-have been removed, The mines delay UNTACoperations and kill 40~50 civilians per month, according to the Red Cross.Eternal SentinelsThe Cambodian mine problem has been known since at least March 1991, when Asia Watch andPhysicians for Human Rights documented the indiscriminate use of these “eternal sentinels” bythe four political factions In Cambodia. In December, the United Nations High Commission onRefugees paid $100,000 for a mine survey of Cambodia by Halo Trust, a U.N.-based non-profitcharity with experience defining In Afghanistan.Because the two-month survey plotted mined and “suspected mined” areas very conservatively,by the end of January 1992, the UNHCR knew that targeted land was safe for only about 10% ofthe 55,000 families who wanted to settle in the north-western provinces along the Thai border,The Halo Trust survey also showed that many roads, bridges and rail beds critical to UNTACprogress were heavily mined. Since then, the situation has hardly changed.Behrooz Sadry, deputy chief of UNTAC, admits that “very, very, very little” of the tacticalmines have been removed. Until June, the Halo Trust was the only operation employingUNTAC-trained deminers. It supervised two 3Dman teams, each clear-log one to two hectares amonth.
  2. 2. Everyone at the U.N. has an excuse for this sorry performance: No mandate. No money. Noauthority. In fact, the U.N. has the mandate, money and authority to do a great deal more than ithas. What it lacks is the will.“Its a pity defining has taken so long,” says UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi. “It was never theintention of UNTAC as such to engage in defining. It was never in the mandate.” TheCambodian Peace Agreement, however, specifically authorizes the UNTAC military mission toassist “with clearing mines and undertakingSandry explains. “We explained to the Advisory Committee for Administrative and BudgetaryQuestions what the purpose was, and we now have the authority to do it.” Still, no one atUNTAC dares to release the funds as wages.The U.N. has held up other funds donated for defining. The U.S. Office for Disaster Assistanceoffered $1 million in March to get the U.N. moving, but after months of arguments between theState Department and the U.N. over whether the funds counted as “assessed U.N. contributions,”the U.S. used the money to hire a private Thai defining contractor Instead.Generals in Cambodias Ministry of Defense also held up defining. Earlier training programs inmine clearance and a mine-awareness program among the Cambodian people.”Mr. Sadry, Mr. Akashis deputy, says, “The defining mandate is there.” He points out that Annex4 of the Paris agreement states that “it is imperative that appropriate border crossing points androutes be designated and cleared of mines and other hazards.” In fact, In March a Thaiengineering battalion cleared mines while repairing Route 5, Cambodias primary road intoThailand, and the most important route for repatriation. Although Mr. Akashi calls this “rather anexception,” the Thai defining has set a precedent of troops of a member state clearing minesunder U.N. authority. Certainly enough of a mandate exists for UNTAC to have cleared at leastthe most important roads and resettlement areas.“We included the money for it,” says Mr. Sandry, who helped to put together UNTAC’s budget.“It was just the determination of how you actually do it.”The problem is that the $5.4 million UNTAC budget for defining supplies, services andoperating costs lists everything from oil filters and furniture-but it neglects to mention wagessalaries or payment for services of outside contractors. The budget provides $1.2 million to paythe operating costs of 512 team months of defining, but nowhere does it specify paying people.Therefore, this $1.2 million has been almost impossible to tap. “In our traditional way of doingthings, we simply didnt have a way of including wages for people who are not U.N. employees,”Mr. Sandry said.This year, they demanded that UNTAC pay $1,100 per month salary, and 10 years salary ascompensation in case of death, for their soldier-deminers. The generals argued that U.N.interpreters and drivers earned S150-$200 per month and defining was much more dangerous.Curiously, the wages would not be, paid to deminers directly, but to the Finance Branch of the
  3. 3. Ministry of Defense. Although the Defense Ministry seems to have given up this grab for easymoney, at least one military unit out of Battambang, the most heavily mined province, is stillinsisting on this rate of pay.In short, money has been available for defining; the problem is the fear of liability and the lackof authority or courage to overcome it. UNTAC’s legal advisor In Phnom Penh, VishaKrisbnalasan, puts the paralysis into perspective: “All the world over, the basic function of theU.N. is to protect itself from liability.”For example, another U.S. State Department contribution, $200,000 given to the UNHCR InApril for defining, was unspent for months. Then in late July, Handicap International, anongovernmental organization known for making prosthetics, was persuaded to take the moneyto administer an UNTAC-supervised deminmg program for a 90-day trial. It therefore becamethe employer of record and took on the responsibility of paying claims for injuries or death todeminers or their families. Says HIs executive director, Dr. Richard J. Baptist: “What we arecontributing is our willingness to he 100% liable.”In the meantime, UNTAC has been waiting for the Cambodian Mine Action Center, aCambodian government institution established “in partnership” with UNTAC. Conceived InDecember as a continuing humanitarian aid and coordination center, CMAC represents the firsttime the U.N. has assumed a voting location in a govern-log body of an independent nation.UNTAC has political and supervisory control of CMAC, but the CMAC will take care of anyclaims for injuries or death.While the CMAC struggles to get itself up and running, a backlog of funds for defining buildsup. The U.S. State Department, tired of waiting for CMAC to get going, recently placed ads Inthe Bangkok Post for private bids to reconstruct and demine more than 150 kilometers of roadscritical to repatriation. The European Community also came through with $1.4 million for HaloTrust and Handicap International operations.Until CMAC starts to function, UNTAC will continue to rely on private groups to clear whatmines they can. And the basic debate about paying the Cambodian workers with UNTAC fundsremains unresolved - as does the morass that created ItMr. Sandry insists, “We cannot make a cash contribution to CMAC because it is not a U.N.body.” Mr. Krishnadasan says just the opposite: “CMAC can receive money from anyone,including UNTAC.” The bureaucratic muddle of who pays whom, how much, for what drags on;because of it, the deminers are not working. The mines are.Problem of Bureaucracy“It is a problem of the U.N. bureaucracy,” says French Brig. Gen. Michel Loridon, who wasrecently removed as UNTAC’s deputy force commander. “When the U.N. has no money theycannot do anything. When they have money, then they take too much time to organize how tospend it.”
  4. 4. Information gathering and decision making has naturally been difficult between the U.N.headquarters in New York and the far-flung UNTAC deployment in Cambodia. But it is the lackof communications and action within the mission, and the resulting tension between UNTACpoliticians and soldiers, that has thwarted effective action.UNTAC clearly has enough authority; to succeed at demining, however, it needs to use it.Mr. Crosby is a free-lance writer and photographer.