Cambodian Rivals Search for a Compromise

By JOHN SPRAGENS Jr.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodian peace talks are scheduled to resume in early February in Indonesia. But officials say there can be no peace unless there is an end to aid for the Khmer Rouge and other resistance groups fighting against their government.

Meanwhile in Bangkok, a spokesman for Prince Norodom Sihanouk, nominal head of the resistance coalition, says the talks will not succeed unless the Phnom Penh government agrees to give up its monopoly of political power in Cambodia.

Under Sihanouk's plan, the Phnom Penh regime would join the three resistance groups in a provisional government, which would hold power until internationally supervised elections select a permanent government.

Since Vietnamese troops and a group of Khmer Rouge defectors swept the Khmer Rouge regime from power 10 years ago, China, the United States and the non-communist Association of Southeast Asian Nations have insisted Vietnam must withdraw from Cambodia.

Now that Vietnam has begun that withdrawal, other elements needed to bring peace and stability to Cambodia have come into the spotlight.

The four Cambodian parties -- the Vietnamese-backed Phnom Penh government, the communist Khmer Rouge, Sihanouk's supporters and a second noncommunist resistance group led by former Prime Minister Son Sann -- must agree on a process for selecting a new government.

And, most of the interested parties say, there must be safeguards to prevent the Khmer Rouge -- responsible for the deaths of at least a million Cambodians when they controlled the country from 1975 through 1978 -- from regaining power.

But there is sharp disagreement over how to achieve these goals.

The Phnom Penh government says it has made a major concession in accepting the Vietnamese troop withdrawal. Now, says Deputy Foreign Minister Sok An, those on the other side of the negotiations should agree to stop arming the Khmer Rouge.

"That's why we raised the idea of a 12-month withdrawal divided into three phases," he says.

"The first phase of the withdrawal should be linked with the cessation of foreign aid" to the resistance, Sok An says. "The second phase of the withdrawal should be linked with the cessation of sanctuary in Thai territory along the Kampuchean (Cambodian) border. The third phase of the withdrawal should be linked with the settlement of the question of the refugees -- that means voluntary repatriation, for example."

In the Phnom Penh government's scenario, the Khmer Rouge would be allowed to participate in the political process, but would have to give up its armed forces first. Phnom Penh and the two non-communist resistance groups would be allowed to maintain their armies until a new government is formed.

But Prince Sihanouk, who has taken the lead in bringing the resistance groups into negotiations with Phnom Penh, insists the Khmer Rouge will have to be included on the same basis as the other factions.

Roland Eng, Sihanouk's press spokesman in Bangkok, says the prince believes China would never accept an agreement that gives the Khmer Rouge second-class status. And Beijing, the Khmer Rouge's major backer for nearly two decades, could easily afford to continue supplying the rebels for years to come.

"Nobody wants the Khmer Rouge," Eng says, "but we have to accept them." Even if they are not able to take power again, he points out, they can undermine efforts to rebuild the country.

"If you build a bridge and the next day the bridge is destroyed, if you build a school and the next day the school is destroyed, you cannot build the country," Eng says. "It's better to have the Khmer Rouge building the country than destroying the country."

The other major dilemma is how to move from the current situation -- with a Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh and three resistance groups based on the Thai-Cambodian border -- to a new government all four groups can accept.

In Sihanouk's plan, the first step is dissolving both the resistance coalition, formally called the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, and the Phnom Penh regime, the People's Republic of Kampuchea.

Both governments are fictions, Eng says. The resistance coalition, he says, is a creation of its ASEAN supporters, while the Phnom Penh government is a creation of the Vietnamese. Both must be scrapped if Cambodia is to move toward a government created by the Khmer people.

The four political parties would form a four-part provisional government and army which would hold power until voters can select a new government.

Phnom Penh's plan calls for a "council for national conciliation" with Prince Sihanouk as chairman.

"This national council will have a very important role," says Deputy Foreign Minister Sok An. "And it will be an independent body, not linked to any government."

The council's primary responsibilities would be organizing national elections and drafting a new constitution.

The differences between these two approaches may be largely semantic, but for the moment they seem to be blocking the next round of negotiations in France -- discussions running parallel to the Indonesia talks.

In a statement last month, Sihanouk said he would not continue discussions in France unless Hun Sen, prime minister in the Phnom Penh government, accepts his approach.

The prime minister has offered a more positive assessment of the talks, stressing the fact that lower-level working groups will continue to meet until arrangements can be made for the next summit.

But in discussions with government officials here, there are clear hints that they feel frustrated.

By announcing that Vietnamese troops will be out of Cambodia by 1990, whether or not there is a political settlement, they have given up their one major negotiating card. They feel they have received little in return.


Text copyright © 1989 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida

Published Jan. 9, 1989


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