issue 242 - April 1993
A shattered nation
The Khmer Rouge tried to restart history, to erase all trace
of what went before. Even the ruins are not there to build on.
Reconstruction has been a hard struggle and there's a long way still
to go before the benefits of peace reach ordinary Cambodians.
By the end of the Khmer Rouge revolution in 1979 all educational books, equipment and facilities had been destroyed and over three quarters of the 20,000 teachers had either died or left the country. A massive effort has been made to re-establish a basic education system and there are now:1,5,7
. 55,000 school teachers with 16,000 more expected in the next two years
. About 90 per cent of school-age children in school
. An adult-literacy rate of between 60 and 70 per cent
. 40 per cent of children completing five years education
Cambodians are suffering terribly from preventable disease and the consequences of conflict: 1,5,6
. Life expectancy is 49.7 years (compared with 66 in Thailand and 67 in Vietnam)
. The infant mortality rate is 120 per 1,000 live births (Asia average 83 per 1,000)
. Only 12 per cent of the population in rural areas and 21 per cent in urban areas have access to safe drinking water
Refugees and displaced people
For a generation hundreds of thousands of Cambodians had to leave their homes and seek refuge where they could. Restoring peace to Cambodia means finding and securing homes for them - a daunting task for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and the international relief agencies. In May 1992 the UN Secretary General reported that there were:1
. 360,000 people to be returned from the Thai border camps, of whom 90 per cent were aged under 45 and almost half aged under 15
. 180,000 internally displaced people inside Cambodia, 20 per cent of whom had been displaced for more than 20 months
A programme of repatriation ahead of the May 1993 elections began to fall well behind schedule, and in May 1992 returnees were offered a cash payment of $50 as an alternative to land.
The slaughter by the Khmer Rouge of an estimated 1.5 million people out of a total of less than eight million distorted the Cambodian population and caused deep personal and social traumas:1,4
. Females make up 64 per cent of the adult population
. There are 200,000 orphaned children
. 50 per cent of the population is aged under 15
. Rapid growth may quadruple the population in the next 50 years
All sides in the Cambodian conflict have used low-cost antipersonnel' devices as a means of denying territory to their opponents. The result is a country infested with land mines that have to be cleared before people can return safely to their homes and Cambodia's agricultural economy can begin to recover. They have taken a terrible toll of mutilation on the Cambodian people:1,2
. There is a minimum of 4 million land mines in Cambodia
. 1 in 236 Cambodians is disabled, making Cambodia the most disabled country on earth
. Each month there are between 300 and 700 amputations due to land-mine injuries
. As of September 1992, 844 Cambodians from the four factions had graduated from 26 courses run by the UN Mine Clearance Training Units. 41 Khmer Rouge graduated from 2 courses taught by the UK contingent in Cambodia.
The cost of living
When the Khmer Rouge tried to return Cambodia to 'year zero' they meant the pre-industrial age, emptying the cities and destroying the fragile economy. Agriculture accounts for 47 per cent of production and employs 84 per cent of the population. By the usual measure of 'Gross Domestic Product' (GDP), which is estimated at $150 per capita per year, Cambodia is now among the three poorest countries in the world. With the 'liberalization' of the economy the Cambodian currency (the riel) halved in value in 1992 and hyper-inflation took over, raising the price of basic foodstuffs beyond the reach of many ordinary Cambodians.1,4
'Hardship singles out your true friend.'
The UN military zones and the national
armies from which the UN troops come.
The United Nations
The United National Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was established in February 1992 for a maximum period of 18 months to implement an Agreement reached between the opposing Cambodian forces in Paris in October 1991. The Supreme National Council, made up of the four Cambodian factions, has delegated 'all powers necessary' to UNTAC, which comprises:4,8
. Some 20,000 military and civilian personnel operating in distinct zones
. 3,039 civilian police from 31 countries, the largest contingents from India (321), Bangladesh (225) and Indonesia (204)
. 15,730 troops from 31 countries, the largest contingents from Indonesia (1,752), India (1,387) and Pakistan (1,160), and including Aotearoa/New Zealand (99), Australia (499), Canada (230), the UK (120) and the US (50)
The cost of the UN operation is $2 billion
1 The Secretary General's Consolidated Appeal for Cambodia's Immediate Needs and National Rehabilitation, United Nations, May 1992.
2 Land Mines in Cambodia; the Cowards' War, Asia Watch / Physicians for Human Rights, September 1991.
3 UNTAC Spokesman's Office, September 1992.
4 UNTAC information.
5 Cambodia: Agenda for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, World Bank, June 1992.
6 Raoul Jennar, Cambodian Chronicles VI, November 1992.
7 Environmental Priorities and Strategies for Strengthening Capacity for Sustainable Development in Cambodia, UNDP April 1992.
8 The Economist, 6 February 1993.