Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cambodia's Wobbly Aid Yardstick Difficulty in Measuring Effectiveness of Foreign Aid Complicatesdecisions on How to Use the Carrot

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cambodia's Wobbly Aid Yardstick Difficulty in Measuring Effectiveness of Foreign Aid Complicatesdecisions on How to Use the Carrot

Article excerpt

A little more than a decade ago, the mostly Western nations that call themselves the international commu-nity considered Cambodia a pariah state and its leader, Hun Sen, the puppet of a Communist neighbor.

Times do change. Last week in Tokyo representatives of those same nations came together, listened earnestly to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and promised Cambodia $470 million in aid and assistance.

In exchange Hun Sen promised a number of reforms and later announced he would resign within two years if unsuccessful. The donor nations said they would watch more carefully than ever to ensure that their money is not misspent. The theory operating here is that aid gives donor nations some leverage to make good things happen in poor, troubled countries. But in the case of Cambodia, opinions differ over whether the fount of money really amounts to much influence. The country's leading opposition politician, Sam Rainsy, says that donor countries are too divided to make their leverage count. Japanese diplomats, whose country is Cambodia's leading donor, insist that when they speak, Hun Sen listens. A Western diplomat acknowledges that previous promises from Cambodia have gone unfulfilled. But he says that last week his government and others saw fit to give Cambodia a second chance, partly because of a new spirit of openness and cooperation on the part of Hun Sen and other officials. It seems fair to say that Cambodia deserves more than one chance. During the past two centuries, the country has been attacked by its neighbors, colonized by the French, and bombed and invaded by the Americans. In 1975 came the Khmer Rouge, a group of Mao-inspired Cambodians whose radical and brutal policies resulted in the deaths of more than a million people. At the end of 1978, the Vietnamese invaded, installing a more benign Communist regime that Hun Sen came to lead. In the early 1990s an internationally brokered peace deal ended decades of civil strife and the United Nations conducted elections in 1993 that were supposed to establish a basis for peace and prosperity. When Hun Sen and his erstwhile Communists lost that contest, they threatened a civil war if they were not included in the government. That ultimatum produced an uneasy arrangement that splintered in July 1997, when open fighting broke out between the two halves of the coalition. After some international prodding, the Cambodians organized elections on their own last year, which Hun Sen and his party won. Japan points to this period as evidence of its role. Japanese officials told Hun Sen in November 1997 to take steps to prepare a fair election or risk alienating Japan, according to one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. Without Japan's support, adds the official, Hun Sen understands that Cambodia couldn't continue its development program. (Over the next year, Japan will provide aid worth approximately $100 million and declare Cambodia eligible for low-cost yen loans.) Despite stamps of approval from international observers over the outcome of elections held last July, Mr. …

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