ANYONE who has followed what has been happening in Cambodia must have been moved to pity for the people still left alive there.. John Pilger's reports in the Daily Mirror and film on television this week have ensured that the message has got home t6 millions in England.
The response of many is: "Stop talking and do something," but when they turn to the newspapers there is a barrage of appeals from different relief agencies.
The problem of how best to give money to help the Cambodians becomes impossibly involved given the political wranglings over this cockpit of the world powers in South East Asia, Prince Sihanouk, the former ruler of Cambodia, whose greatest success has been to survive, appealed to the Pope from Peking during his American tour. He asked for papal intervention on behalf of "the thousands of very wretched Cambodians who fled from the bloody Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese aggressors."
It still comes as a surprise to many in this country that the British government backs Pol Pot, who has already killed off half the Cambodian population, in the civil war that continues there. British support is probably limited to official recognition in the United Nations, but Chairman Hua who visited Mrs Thatcher this week backs Pol Pot's army with the resources that a nation of 800 million can provide.
Prince Sihanouk has no time for either side in the war and says: "In this moment the Cambodian people who languish under the inhuman yoke of the Khmer Rouge and under that intolerable one of the Vietnamese colonialists cannot be effectively saved, since international aid goes primarily to fatten up the soldiers of the two antagonists." There is no real evidence of this, but then evidence of anything from Cambodia is in short supply.
Common sense suggests that the chances of relief getting to the right people are greater if the agencies transport it to distribution points rather than drop it in the jungle from aircraft and hope that Pol Pot's soldiers are not the first to reach it. But no one can reach the people in most of the country without the cooperation of the government. The regime put in by Vietnam has made it quite clear that it will not accept help from anybody supporting Pol Pot.
As Hun Sen. the Foreign Minister of Cambodia, said: "We would prefer to eat grass, indeed to die. rather than to share aid with Pol Pot."
When Mr Brian Walker, the head of Oxfam, returned from Cambodia, it was with this promise from Ros Sainay, Minister of the Economy and Reconstruction: "I give you a solemn promise that all your aid will be given to our people and will not be given either to our own military or the Vietnam military."
The International Red Cross and Unicef have links with the United Nations and had sent in aid from Thailand to the West of the country, where Pol Pot had gathered his remnants. As a result there has been concern about their ability to send aid to the whole country without the go ahead • of the Vietnam-backed regime. In contrast Oxfam has given a firm undertaking not to help Pol Pot, so that the price for its aid to the majority is its inability to reach those caught in the area dominated by Pol Pot.
Neither the Red Cross nor Unicef is willing to budge from its stand of complete political impartiality and can give no such undertaking. At the same time, Unicef has put out advertisements asking for donations and saying "Massiv Unicef aid is getting through to the people."
On this, John Pilger wrote to
the Guardian last Monday: "It is no wonder that many people these days are cynical about charities, because this last quoted claim is a lie." He continued: "The world's two major relief agencies have sent to Cambodia ill the last ten months little more than the amount of relief which they themselves estimated is needed evert. day.
It would be unfair and damaging to look on the Cambodia relief efforts as a dogfight between the charities. The same political contradictions which have brought a nation of six million close to annihilation now hamper attempts to save those left.
Some aid is certainly reaching those in need. Save the Children is setting up a residential feeding centre at Sae Kaew in Thailand near the Cambodian border. This will house 90,000 of the estimated 180,000 Cambodian refugees who have escaped over the border. Christian Aid sent a plane load of supplies from Stansted last Friday. Help the Aged has sent £20,000.
The Catholic Fund for Overseas Development is confident that it can get aid through. Its latest communique states: "It is certain that the aid will be distributed on an equitable basis as quickly as possible." It has acted in concert with other European Catholic relief agencies which have been given a third of the cost of 8,000 tons of food and equipment, with lorries to distribute it, by the EEC.
Cafod does not shut its eyes to all the problems, including the shortage of time. Its contribution to the 8,000-ton cargo bound for Kampong Son 'cannot leave Bangkok until mid-November.