Jump-Start for Cambodia

The US could accelerate progress toward peace by lifting its embargo on humanitarian and developmental aid

By , Heather M. O'Brien, a former researcher with the Far Eastern Economic Review, helped draft sections of the UN peace plan for Cambodia.

ALL four factions at the core of the Cambodian conflict have joined hands in a shaky cease-fire until the Supreme National Council meeting scheduled for this month. The basic problem is a political deadlock between Cambodia's two most powerful factions - the State of Cambodia's de facto government, communist but reformist, and the radically Maoist Khmer Rouge guerrillas - over details of the United Nations peace plan. Meanwhile, in the field the number of refugees on the ThaiCambodian border has climbed to more than 380,000, and more than 180,000 civilians within Cambodia have been displaced. The current political "red-lock" threatens the momentum of the Cambodian peace process.

The flurry of diplomatic activity following the optimistic internationalization of the Cambodian peace process in August 1989 produced the UN Security Council's framework for a political settlement in Resolution 688. This "Perm-5" plan will create a UN peacekeeping operation, the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), which will neutralize the volatile military environment, supervise five key government ministries, and prepare Cambodians for the first free elections in Khmer history. During this

transition period, the Supreme National Council will enshrine the national sovereignty of Cambodia and hold Cambodia's seat at the UN. Factional disputes within the council have caused the present impasse.

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The Cambodian peace process needs a jump-start. This could be done simultaneously from two angles: external and internal.

First, the internal problem. Military machinery within Cambodia must be effectively neutralized and international guarantees of peace must be strengthened. The UN's Perm-5 framework unwittingly favors the Khmer Rouge over the State of Cambodia (SOC) forces. Although soldiers from all four Khmer factions will be held in cantonment under UN guard, the very nature of the guerrilla group gives it the unfair advantage of invisibility.

While SOC troops are under keen international eye, Khmer Rouge rank and file will melt unseen by the UN into the Cambodian populace and further entrench a culture of fear and coercion. While the SOC military would be meticulously dismantled, the Khmer Rouge would be "neutralized" by UN blue helmets checking surrendered weapons against lists provided by the Khmer Rouge themselves. Such a system, dependent on Khmer Rouge honesty, invites deception.

Authentic international guarantees by UN Security Council members are essential. Khmer civilians must be assured that the Khmer Rouge will not return to undermine a newly elected government. Current draft guarantees are vague and noncommittal.

CHANGES in the external environment are equally important. Here the US can make a vital contribution by lifting the embargo against humanitarian aid to Cambodia. This would demonstrate a commitment to helping the Cambodian people and to the P-5 process.

Allowing humanitarian and developmental aid to enter the country so that Prime Minister Hun Sen can better care for the Cambodian people may appear to benefit the de facto regime in the short run. But if the lifting of the embargo is coupled with assurances that Hun Sen will agree to the P-5 plan, UNTAC will ultimately ensure that the Cambodian people benefit from this aid. Once elections have been held, the US will be freed of a residual cold-war conflict and can concentrate on fostering ties with Camb o

dia's politically more important neighbor, Vietnam.

While complete normalization of diplomatic relations may yet be politically premature, opening channels of communication between Indochina and the US is crucial. Sen. Robert Kerrey's proposals to establish a liaison office in Phnom Penh to supervise the distribution of humanitarian aid and encourage informal exchange between Washington and Phnom Penh would be one such positive channel.

Fostering economic ties by lifting the trade embargo would open many windows of opportunity - political, economic, and humanitarian - to US relations with Indochina. It would also help to relieve domestic pressure from the US business community, led by Sens. Richard Lugar and Frank Murkowski, to address US business interests by discarding the "trading with the enemy" act.

The political implications of lifting the trade embargo would be great. It could entice Hanoi and Phnom Penh into agreeing to the Perm-5 framework for peace, providing the needed lever to secure US interests with both warring Asian communists and their respective Security Council comrades. From the Soviet camp, the US and its allies in the region would finally get verification of the complete withdrawal of Vietnamese military forces from Cambodia. UNTAC-supervised elections would provide a face-saving w a

y for Beijing to drop its Maoist proxies, thereby preempting any Khmer Rouge plans to return to power for a second round of the killing fields.

To achieve these ends, the US should remove its political barricade to aid and allow financial institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank to decide whether the SOC's recent economic reforms merit eligibility for development loans. Cold-war politics froze the aid vaults shut. Cambodia is the only country ever to be denied developmental aid from all the usual loan sources.

Current US foreign policy significantly contributes to the human-rights nightmare in progress in Cambodia. Fostering political stability and economic development will open new windows of opportunity to promote US interests and to cultivate mutually productive long-term relations with Southeast Asian nations.

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