Time to Be Counted on Cambodia

IT was hard enough for the United Nations to convince Cambodia's combatants to sign a peace treaty last October. It may be even harder to move ahead with the UN's ambitious plan for implementing that treaty, particularly if key members of the UN don't put their full weight behind the plan.

Current fighting between the Khmer Rouge and forces of the Phnom Penh government underscore the difficulties. The Khmer Rouge is determined to grab more territory, set up administrative councils, and force refugees to return to areas under its control. But the UN plan, signed by the Khmer Rouge and the three other factions, requires free movement of refugees.

The Khmer Rouge's chief backer, China, should lead efforts to force it to honor the treaty. As a UN Security Council member, China was closely involved in the diplomacy that led to last year's pact.

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Another council member, the United States, could also exhibit greater enthusiasm for the demands of peacemaking. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was just in Washington to firm up US backing. He got expressions of support, but few commitments.

Current US politics may make "foreign policy" dangerous words for the Bush administration, but more dangerous is the appearance of going soft on a crucial international obligation.

Japan, too, shouldn't dither about contributing its substantial share of the $2 billion needed for the peace operation in Cambodia. Tokyo's regional interests and its effort to assume a more activist role in the world are at stake.

But most at stake is the future of a people who have experienced unimaginable suffering in recent decades. The return of some 370,000 Cambodian refugees from their camps in Thailand is now getting under way. If the powers that helped start the process don't fully contribute to the work of peacekeeping, mine clearing, and economic rebuilding, the refugees' return could be as tragic as their flight.

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