Sihanouk's pet project: setting up negotiations on Kampuchea

Prince Norodom Sihanouk's pet project these days is building support for a Paris-based international peace conference on Kampuchea. In an interview here, the leader of the coalition of resistance forces fighting the Vietnamese occupation of Kampuchea (Cambodia) spelled out his plan: negotiations among ``all the Kampuchean groups, all our neighbors, and all the major powers -- regional or global.''

The ``Kampuchean groups'' are the two noncommunist factions of the resistance, the communist Khmer Rouge faction, and the Vietnamese-backed government in Kampuchea. The neighbors and major powers, he said, include the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, France, the United States, and India.

``The more parties represented, the better,'' he said. ``If you exclude the Khmer Rouge, you exclude China, and if you exclude China you don't settle the problem.''

The prince is not the first to come up with a proposal for negotiations. Malaysia recently proposed ``proximity talks'' among the four Kampuchean factions, but China did not approve them and the proposal was dropped.

Other tasks Sihanouk has assigned himself are:

Persuading France, which played host to the Vietnam peace talks, to support his own negotiations project.

Getting the US more involved in backing the Kampuchean resistance.

Strengthening his own group's military power inside Kampuchea.

Commenting on the ``retirement'' last month of Pol Pot as commander in chief of the Khmer Rouge guerrillas he said it was a trick aimed at improving the faction's image before the UN addressed the Kampuchean problem in the 40th session. ``I know the Khmer Rouge very well,'' Sihanouk said. ``Pol Pot will stay in the shadow, but he remains the boss.''

The prince said he thought Pol Pot's withdrawal was concocted by Peking with some support from Washington. ``My dislike of the Khmer Rouge is well known,'' he said. ``Were they to rule again over my country, it would be a catastrophe. But that danger is far down the road.''

The prince has at least temporarily allied himself with the Khmer Rouge to fight the Vietnamese occupation, which he apparently views as more immediate danger than the Khmer Rouge.

The Vietnamese ``want to drive a wedge between me and my Kampuchean partners -- make me an adviser of their Kampuchean puppet regime,'' he said. ``This will not do. If the Vietnamese want to talk to us, they must talk to us as a group.''

Right now Vietnam is threatened with diplomatic and economic suffocation, he says. So the country is trying to divide the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and sow suspicions between it and China. Vietnam, he says, is proving more forthcoming on the issue of American servicemen unaccounted for since the Vietnam war because Vietnam is trying to drive a wedge between China and the United States. ``I know the West is being cajoled by Hanoi,'' he said.

About Vietnam's promise last spring to pull out of Kampuchea by 1995, the prince said: ``Knowing the Vietnamese, I am convinced that they will not let go of Kampuchea. They will hold on to it through every means at their disposal.

The 1995 deadline carries a catch, he said. ``If the Kampuchean resistance continues its liberation struggle, the Vietnamese may leave some forces behind.''

But military defeats of the Kampuchean resistance at the hands of the Vietnamese last spring did not leave Sihanouk pessmistic.

``We lost a few battles,'' he said, ``but not the war, as De Gaulle would have put it. There will be large military operations again during the next dry season [this winter]. The coalition is now receiving strong support from China and, indirectly, from the United States.''

He was referring to a recently approved $5 million US aid package earmarked for the noncommunist resistance factions.

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