Khmer Rouge moderates Vietnam stance

The Khmer Rouge, still famous for its murderous policies while in power in Kampuchea (Cambodia) in the mid-1970s, has made another effort to moderate its image. A statement broadcast over Khmer Rouge Radio on Monday expressed an unusually moderate attitude toward Vietnam, which overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, and Hanoi's main ally, the Soviet Union. The statement also hinted that the Khmer Rouge might not insist on participating in any coalition government that resulted from a negotiated settlement of the Kampuchea problem.

The statement expressed willingness to let ``Heng Samrin and his party'' -- Hanoi's Kampuchean allies and prot'eg'es -- take part in any putative coalition government, providing they abandoned Vietnam. It also announced its keenness to live in peace with Vietnam, the Soviet Union, and other Soviet-bloc countries.

These sentiments, the statement continued, are ``basic positions of Democratic Kampuchea,'' (the Khmer Rouge's name for its organization). The Khmer Rouge leaders will adhere to these views ``even though in the future, after general elections, the Democratic Kampuchean Party may or may not be able to participate in the national government.''

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other countries opposed to the continuing Vietnamese presence in Kampuchea have proposed a solution whereby the Vietnamese withdraw their forces from the country and internationally-supervised elections are held to elect a new government.

The Khmer Rouge statement is, however, unlikely to be anything more than a tactic. In the past, the Khmer Rouge leadership has responded to adversity with political flexibility. Once their fortunes have recovered, however, they have snapped back into their old rigidity.

The anti-Vietnamese Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), composed of the Khmer Rouge and two noncommunist groups, is in serious trouble after a successful Vietnamese offensive against CGDK border bases in Thailand earlier this year. The communist Khmer Rouge -- militarily the most effective of the three factions but a serious political embarrassment to CGDK image -- may be under even more pressure from ASEAN to take a low political profile.

The Vietnamese are unlikely to respond favorably to the Khmer Rouge statement. There are signs that Hanoi views the recent ASEAN suggestion of indirect talks between the CGDK and Vietnam as a sign of weakness on the part of ASEAN and the coalition. They will probably treat the new Khmer Rouge statement in the same way.

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