Asian neighbors seek Cambodian settlement

There are hints that the noncommunist nations of Southeast Asia will launch a new effort to negotiate a Cambodian settlement with Vietnam. Among some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) there is at least an increasing awareness that the Vietnamese-backed Heng Samrin government is "here to stay," and that support for the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge will simply prolong the bloodshed.

But there is no sign a new apporach will be more unified or successful than past ones.

Here is evidence of the new "initiative":

1. Reports from Jakarta, Indonesia, that ASEAN is quietly exploring the possibility of withdrawing recognition of the China-supported Khmer Rouge guerrillas if Vietnam wthdraws its troops from Cambodia.

According to the news agency Agence France-Presse and sources representing ASEAN nations (Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore), the plan calls for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement after the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops.

2. A speech by Thailand's Foreign Minister Siddhi Savetsila in which he reportedly said his country would be willing to accept Heng Samrin as Cambodia's leader, provided Vietnamese troops were withdrawn and the political makeup of the government broadened.

Foreign Minister Siddhi himself is a holdover from the earlier Kriangsak government, which opposed Vietnamese presence in Cambodia. But the government of Prem Tinsulanonda has as its coalition partner the Social Action Party of Kukrit Pramoj. Mr. Kukrit reportedly favors accommodation with a Hanoi-dominated Cambodia.

3. At their annual March meeting, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Hussein bin Onn and Indonesian President Suharto declared that Vietnam should remove itself from either Soviet or Chinese influence. this position, not strictly new, has been interpreted as an invitation for a Vietnam-ASEAN dialogue, while also advocating disassociation of ASEAN from China's strong anti-Vietnam position.

So far there has been no unified ASEAN approach to Vietnam or to Cambodia. Indeed, ASEAN countries have made it clear that visits to ASEAN countries by Vietnam's Foreign Minister would be unwelcome. Thus the Foreign Minister will visit Malaysia in late April but will not stop off in Thailand. The Foreign Minister will not visit Indonesia until June or July.

ASEAN countries insist on this arrangement so that, strictly speaking, relations with Vietnam will be on a bilateral, not on an ASEAN-wide approach.

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