ASEAN lands focus on Cambodia

Cambodia will top the agenda when the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet today (June 17). The presence of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. is expected to shed new light on Asia in general and Cambodia in particular, Monitor contributor Sheilah Ocampo reports. The growing consensus among Asia-watchers is that the United States has given over to China its "dirty job" of keeping Vietnam and the Soviet Union at bay.

The ASEAN five -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand -- have collectively demanded total Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia. But Vietnam's disinclination to budge has split the group. Singapore and Thailand have become hard-liners, insisting on total withdrawal, while Malaysia and Indonesia are more flexible. ASEAN diplomats expect no immediate solution, but will exchange views on Cambodia, including prospects of a third force arising under a Prince Sihanouk-Son Sann coalition.

Thailand's precarious position as frontline state worries the other countries , which are wary of its quasi-alliance with China. Vietnam has charged that China has supported Khmer Rouge forces through Thailand, and any policy of accommodation with Vietnam could endanger the fragile relations between Thailand and China.

ASEAN states will discuss the kind of support they can extend. They will also discuss tactics to adopt during July's UN conference on Cambodia in New York, and during the next session of the General Assembly in September -- the next rounds in their battle to prevent the Hanoi-backed Heng Samrin government from gain ing UN recognition.

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