Third round of Cambodia peace talks under way. UN vote puts pressure on Vietnam-backed regime
Bangkok — A new round of Cambodian peace talks begins today in Paris, with Vietnam under greater pressure to make concessions. The third set of talks this year brings together Cambodia's main leaders: Hun Sen, prime minister of the Hanoi-backed People's Republic of Kampuchea, and Prince Norodom Sihanouk, leader of the resistance forces.
As in previous negotiations, the focus is expected to be on designing a power-sharing formula between the two sides.
Recent diplomatic setbacks, some Western diplomats say, have weakened Vietnam's bargaining position.
Last week, Vietnam was rebuffed by the United Nations General Assembly, which voted 122-19 for the removal of ``foreign forces'' from Cambodia. The vote was higher than those on similar resolutions in past years.
Hanoi admits it is far behind in its promise from last May to withdraw half of its estimated 100,000 troops from Cambodia by December, the 10th anniversary of its invasion.
``Vietnam wants to pull out on its terms, and have the right to go back in if the Khmer Rouge appear to be winning,'' a Western diplomat says. ``But right now they are not getting their terms, so they may be forced to stay.''
Hun Sen, who stopped in Hanoi for consultation before going to Paris, sees little hope of progress in the talks. In fact, he asked for a two-day delay, perhaps to re-assess his position after the UN vote, some diplomats speculate.
In addition, Hanoi appears to be backpedaling on previous diplomatic initatives. For example, it now wants to reverse a July decision to open direct talks with the anti-Vietnamese resistance forces, including the Khmer Rouge. Previously, it insisted on entering talks only after a settlement between the four Cambodia combatants, hoping to treat the conflict as a civil war and not be tagged as an aggressor.
With the promise of a total pullout by 1990, Vietnam had counted on growing world outrage at the prospect of a Khmer Rouge return to power to bolster its negotiating position. (During its 1975-79 rule, the communist Khmer Rouge caused the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians.) Hanoi's opponents now question whether the 1990 deadline was a ploy.
The UN resolution, for the first time, demanded the ``non-return to the universally condemned policies and practices of a recent past'' in Cambodia. But the oblique language, seen as referring to the Khmer Rouge, was not considered strong enough to affect the diplomatic standoff.
Vietnam's opponents, including China, tried to counter this concern over the Khmer Rouge at the UN by calling for an international peace-keeping force. They do not favor a quick end of support for the Khmer Rouge, the strongest of three anti-Hanoi forces, before Vietnam withdraws and a new coalition government set up.
The Khmer Rouge accepted the idea of a peace-keeping force on Oct. 15, thus diplomatically isolating Vietnam and its chief supporter, the Soviet Union. Two months earlier, the Khmer Rouge had acknowledged concerns over its possible return to sole power, and promised that it would not happen.
The Soviets have told Western diplomats they will only support such an international force in Cambodia if Hanoi does. Vietnam has accepted the idea of an international political body to judge whether any peace agreement is working, but not foreign troops in Cambodia.
Vietnam had a chance to isolate the Khmer Rouge at talks held in Jakarta last month when the Khmer Rouge failed to show up. But, for unknown reasons, Hanoi failed to take advantage of the absence. It did gain a point in that set of talks, however, when all sides agreed to link a Vietnamese pullout with an end to military support of the Khmer Rouge by China and Thailand. While Hanoi insists both should happen at the same time, its opponents say the withdrawal must come first.
Last week's UN vote strengthened Sihanouk's hand. But at the same time, a controversy arose last week over United States covert funding of his guerrilla force. Charges emerged that the Thai military had siphoned off $3.5 million in US aid. Thai officials have promised to investigate.
The Paris talks may be followed by more in December and January between both the Cambodian parties and other Southeast Asian nations. Overshadowing these talks is the possibility of a Sino-Soviet summit some time next year that might strike a deal on Cambodia.
Meanwhile, Vietnam promises big troop withdrawals in coming weeks to meet its deadline. But the US ambassador to the UN, Vernon Walters, said last week: ``There have been ... few concrete signs up to this time of major movement of Vietnamese forces out of Cambodia.''