OF all places on earth, Cambodia deserves an opportunity to get back on its feet after years of conflict. But with Vietnamese forces slowly withdrawing from this war-torn land after a 10-year occupation, the prospect is for more bloodshed as the discredited Khmer Rouge tries to reassert its reign of terror. The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, was responsible for the deaths of over a million Cambodians during the 1970s. His fanatics emptied whole cities, sending people to camps in the jungle for ``reeducation'' and execution. In the interests of peace and conscience, the Khmer Rouge must be kept from grasping power again.
To accomplish that, Cambodia's neighbors and the powers that support them are going to have to make room, in their efforts to forge new relationships, for the interests of the Cambodian people themselves. At present, relations between the Soviet Union and China are warming, which will have an impact on their respective clients, Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge. The danger is that Cambodia may be forgotten, left to stew in internal conflict among its warring factions.
The United States can help prevent this. It should bring diplomatic pressure to bear on China to stop resupplying Pol Pot's troops. It should urge the Soviets to move their Vietnamese clients toward a more constructive role in Cambodia's future. American pressure on Thailand, home to Khmer Rouge staging areas, would also be useful.
Washington should also push for an international conference on Cambodia, which would set the stage for a United Nations effort to oversee the formation of a new government in Cambodia when the Vietnamese have left. All parties in Cambodia, even the Khmer Rouge if they're willing, should join in this process.
This approach will take a clear recognition in the Bush White House that Cambodia and Indochina must be put back on the US foreign policy agenda. The US did its part, during the war, to create the turmoil in Cambodia. It should now take the lead in assuring Cambodia an opportunity for a peaceful future.