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Speaking notes for Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the High Level Working Group meeting on Cambodia, 11 November 1991

Speeches and statements

Speaking notes for Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the High Level Working Group meeting on Cambodia, 11 November 1991

21 November 1991

As you know, I visited Thailand and Cambodia in January for a first hand appraisal of the preparations underway for the forthcoming Repatriation Operation. We hope to start the first movement during the latter part of March. Therefore, I felt it would be important to bring you up to date with the latest information available on the state of preparedness and our assessment of the situation.

Following the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding on 21 November 1991 between the Supreme National Council, the Royal THAI Government and UNHCR, we started putting the necessary field staff in place, and I appointed Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello as my Special Envoy in Cambodia. Understandings were also reached with other sister agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF, WFP, UNESCO and currently with WHO, on our respective roles in the Repatriation Operation.

In Cambodia, 6 Reception Centres are being constructed and we expect them to be completed in late March. Work has started on the construction of truck parks to service the large fleet of vehicles needed in this operation. The vehicles have been ordered and should arrive in Cambodia in one week's time. A full scale telecommunications system is being installed. The necessary equipment has just arrived in Phnom Penh and technicians are now going out there to put it in place prior to the first returnee movement in late March.

In Thailand the construction of staging areas in 3 border camps and Khao I Dang has now been completed. A contract has been signed with a bus and truck company to transport the returnees and their belongings to Cambodia. The integration of UNBRO activities with UNHCR is proceeding well, making maximum use of available human resources and equipment. Field officers have intensified the information campaign and registration exercise in the camps. I should mention here the registration exercise which is intended to identify the wishes of the refugees with regard to their preferred location and manner of return, and which will have to be constantly updated. As more information becomes available, the refugees will want to adjust their earlier expressed wishes.

Therefore, in relation to the movement phase, despite the delay in receiving contributions last year, we are very much on target with our preparations to have the first movement started by the latter part of the month of March. As I discovered during my visit to the border camps, the refugees are indeed very eager to return as early as possible.

There are, however, many constraints to the smooth running of the Repatriation Operation.

The identification of suitable agricultural land is one of the main problems ahead of us. So far, out of the 250,000 ha of land which could be potentially available, 70,000 ha have been surveyed and initial results indicate that only 30,000 ha are likely to be mine-free, subject to further verification. While this is being checked out, the remaining 180,000 ha are being surveyed. In 2 months' time we hope to have a better idea about the availability of additional suitable land. Such land may, however, not always coincide with the preferred location of return chosen by the returnees, either at the district or provincial levels.

As you know, the mandate of UNAMIC has been extended to include mine clearance. Currently, Thailand is sending an engineer battalion and various other countries are dispatching demining experts to undertake this important task. Priority will be given to the demining of the main routes, to be taken by the returnees, the areas surrounding the reception centres and the land to be allocated to the returnees. I am relieved that this job is being undertaken by the United Nations as such. It clearly falls beyond the scope of a humanitarian agency, such as UNHCR.

But even with the provision of land and assistance packages, the reintegration process, if it is to be successful, must be paralleled with Quick Impact Projects. Those are specific short-term projects which will assist immediately the reintegration process of the returnees. We should not forget that 70% of the returning population have no previous experience of agricultural activities due to their extended stay in the camps. Therefore they will require guidance and training on the proper use of the land. UNDP is currently fielding a mission in Cambodia, together with UNHCR, to identify specific projects related to agriculture, water resources development, basic infrastructure, health and other non-agricultural income generating activities to be implemented by NGOs at village or district level. While we have included in the Consolidated Appeal, of which I have sent you an advance copy, an initial start-up fund of US$5 million, we expect that a much larger amount may be needed once the results of the UNDP led mission are known by the end of this month and I will not fail to inform you about this in due course. we are already in contact with some NGOs who are willing in principle to act as implementing partners of Quick Impact Projects, but a larger number of organizations will have to be identified. These UNHCR projects, designed for the immediate reintegration phase, are complementary to the area development programmes which are being developed by UNDP and other sister agencies for the rehabilitation programme of the returnee impacted provinces.

The complexity and difficulties of this operation are obvious. I am convinced that if we are to succeed, we need to be extremely flexible to adapt instantaneously to changing circumstances, such as, the intensity of the rainy season ahead, the possibility of extending the Repatriation Operation to faction-controlled areas, the state of the road network - taking into account the fact that during one year at least, 4 convoys daily will be using the same stretches of roads - and of course the security aspects surrounding the operation.

As you may know, the Secretary-General has asked Governments to authorize an advance allocation of US$200 million to allow the UN to make the necessary arrangements for the launching of the overall United Nations operation in May or June this year. On our part, we have agreed with the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Mr. Akashi, with whom we have already established a very close co-operation, that the Secretary-General will present shortly on our behalf a Consolidated Appeal covering the repatriation operation only amounting to some US$116.3 million. This will be done without prejudice to a final decision by the Security Council whether to finance the UNHCR/WFP programmes out of assessed contributions as an integral part of the overall UN plan, or whether it should be funded from voluntary contributions. In case of the latter eventuality, the Secretary-General would insist not to launch the overall UN plan unless and until we are assured of full funding of the Repatriation Operation.

The Consolidated Appeal document presented to you for advance information, will give you an idea of the budget, the plan of operations of UNHCR' and WFP and the financial status of the operation. To date, o f the US$30 million available to UNHCR for this Operation, out of total requirements of US$84.3 million, an amount of US$23 million has been spent, or firmly committed, while the remaining US$7 million is in the process of being committed, making it very difficult for UNHCR to move into the operational phase next month without immediate additional contributions. I would urge your Governments to respond positively and promptly to the Consolidated Appeal when issued by the Secretary General.