Cambodian Factions Fall Out

For the thousands of refugees in Thailand, stalled peace talks come as a bitter disappointment

TENS of thousands of Cambodian refugees and war-wounded face the threat of renewed fighting inside Cambodia in the wake of failed peace talks. The recent breakdown of peace talks in Jakarta has left the Khmer Rouge, the dominant rebel faction, isolated and political alignments among the Cambodian factions in flux.

At the talks, Prime Minister Hun Sen struck an accord with Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia's hereditary monarch, on the leadership of the so-called Supreme National Council, a Cambodian-led interim government.

Sihanouk would chair the largely symbolic council while Hun Sen would be the vice chairman. Both sides confirmed June 8 that they had reached an agreement.

The issue has stalled a United Nations peace plan under which the UN would temporarily administer Cambodia, monitor a cease-fire and elections, and disarm the factions. The parties accepted the plan in principle last summer, but have bickered over the leadership issue.

"They're stuck on how to implement the peace plan and secure peace and quiet," says a Soviet diplomat in Bangkok.

Meanwhile, the Khmer Rouge opposes the new-found political partnership between Sihanouk and Hun Sen, signaling an open split in the alliance. The Khmer Rouge holds veto power over the peace proposals, and until now Sihanouk has insisted that the Khmer Rouge be part of any interim arrangement.

Phnom Penh, backed by Vietnam, says the Khmer Rouge should be sidetracked in the political process and kept from returning to power. But a third resistance party, lead by former Prime Minister Son Sann, still insists there can be no interim agreement without the Khmer Rouge.

The Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia in a repressive Marxist regime from 1975 until Vietnam invaded in late 1978 and installed the present government.

The two noncommunist parties have been under growing pressure from Western supporters to sever relations with the Khmer Rouge. Earlier this year, the United States froze funds for the noncommunist Khmer rebels, amid criticism that they were collaborating with the Khmer Rouge.

Aid was later resumed on a more restricted basis as the US, Japan, and other Western countries proposed to increase humanitarian assistance to areas under Phnom Penh control.

In a new round of fighting this spring, the Khmer Rouge bolstered resistance troops facing a strong offensive by the Phnom Penh regime, Western aid workers say.

Some Western diplomats contend Vietnamese troops, which Hanoi says were withdrawn from Cambodia in 1989, backed up the Cambodian Army.

The isolation of the Khmer Rouge has raised concerns of further fighting as the country faces deeper political splits. Western diplomats, however, say China, the Marxist guerrillas' patron, is ready to oppose a Khmer Rouge return to power if the Phnom Penh regime is removed.

"The Chinese really don't want the Khmer Rouge back in power," says a Western diplomat. "But they also want the current government out of power."

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