Sihanouk's on-again-off-again 'front' is on again

Prince Norodom Sihanouk has once again changed his mind. Late last week he said that he was backing off from his proposal for a united front to resist the Vietnamese in Cambodia. But in a telephone interview from North Korean Feb. 28, he said he will go ahead with the proposal, meeting with Khmer Rouge presentatives in North Korea.

The united front the prince proposes would be a three-way alliance of his own followers, the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge, and the conservative anticommunists led by Son Sann.

The hitch has been that Son Sann and his France-based supporters are refusing to cooperate with the communist Khmer Rouge. Their hesitation is perhaps understandable: Widespread Khmer Rouge killings during their rule from 1975 to 1979 have made them detested by many Cambodians.

Depsite widespread skepticism, the prince insists it is possible to cooperate with the Khmer Rouge if there are appropriate safeguards. The Khmer Rouge would first have to agree to an international peacekeeping force and disarmament of Khmer forces after victory over the Vietnamese. This would presumably keep the Khmer Rouge or any other group from killing off its former collaborators.

In Washington the State Department said last week it welcomed reports from Cambodia ntionalists were attempting to form a common front. "We believe they have role to play in contributing to a political solution and we are therefore watching these developments with considerable interest," spokesman William Dyess said.

Asked if he referred to the Khmer Rouge also, he added, "Basically, we refer to people who want to rid their country of foreign occupation troops."

Some Southeast Asian countries hope a unified force could gain a foothold strong enough for eventual negotiations with vietnam's 200,000-man occupation forces.

Many independent observes have wondered how Prince Sihanouk seriously believes he can push Vietnam either out of his country or to the conference table.Even the most powerful opposition group, the Khmer Rouge, fields only 30, 000 men. And if he cooperates with the Khmer Rouge, he risks losing the support of his countrymen.

But the volatile Prince Sihanouk brushes all this aside. He is getting old, he says, and he wants to bring about a democrati c Cambodia before it's too late.

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