A cause for gratitude or a case of UN hypocrisy?

[Published in the Phnom Penh Post, January 5, 2009.]

Teruo Jinnai, the UN resident coordinator, is quoted in your story “UN pledges continued support for Cambodia” [December 22] as saying that after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the UN provided Cambodia with US$700 million in emergency relief.

Perhaps my memory is failing me, but I seem to recall that in 1979 and throughout the 1980s, the KR held Cambodia’s UN seat, and for that reason UN agencies could not or would not deal with Cambodia’s real government, only Unicef being a partial exception.

I also recall it being common knowledge in the 1980s that most UN “assistance” for Cambodia was provided to the border camps, which were under the control of the KR or its allies, and that the UN usually simply handed over these supplies, leaving it to the KR to decide how to distribute them. I am sure that those supplies enabled the survival of some innocent refugees who would otherwise have starved, but they were also a significant contribution to the KR’s ability to continue fighting.

According to Eva Mysliwiec’s pamphlet Punishing the Poor, in 1986 UN aid to the border camps totalled $150 per person, while for persons inside the country it was $1.50 per person.

However, I have not been able to find precise figures on the distribution of UN funding in other years; it may not always have been a ratio of 100 to 1 in favor of areas under KR control. Perhaps Mr Jinnai could look into UN records on the dispersal of the $700 million and inform the Cambodian public, who can then judge how much gratitude they owe.

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