Countering a Campaign of Fear

WITH the approach of Cambodia's May 23 elections, the Khmer Rouge continues to increase the level of violence aimed at United Nations personnel as well as at ordinary Cambodians.

Within the last few days, Khmer Rouge guerrillas have shelled UN positions in the capital of Kompong Thom province. The shelling came hours after guerrillas, believed to be Khmer Rouge, attacked UN personnel traveling in the northwestern part of the country. One Japanese was killed and several in the entourage were wounded.

This continuing strategy to aggressively sow fear, and so disrupt the UN-sponsored parliamentary elections, must not be allowed to succeed.

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The UN clearly is committed to seeing the process through, despite the recognition that the peacekeeping portion of its activities hasn't succeeded. Yasushi Akashi, who heads the UN effort in Cambodia, and Prince Norodom Sihanouk were set to meet today with other factions, including the Khmer Rouge, to continue their efforts to resolve differences.

Attention also must be paid to factors that continue to breed the economic and social discontent on which the Khmer Rouge still feeds in some areas. The economy remains in desperate shape. Corruption and profiteering have appeared in some urban areas as the UN moved in along with the money needed to support its activities.

The question for the estimated 5 million registered voters is similar to that faced by voters in other nations struggling, often in the face of violent opposition, to emerge from brutal authoritarian rule: Despite current economic and political turmoil, is the achievement of a more prosperous Cambodia ruled by a government based on principles of democracy and respect for human rights a worthwhile goal? The answer to that question must be yes.

A Philippine officer serving with UN forces in Cambodia, quoted in a recent news report from the country, correctly observes: "If this country is ever going to see an end to chaos, it has to begin at the level of ordinary people doing the right thing at a dangerous time."

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