CLOSE to a final settlement of their 12-year civil war, Cambodia's rival politicians are readying for what is expected to be a difficult peace.Last weekend, the three resistance factions and the Phnom Penh regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen removed the last major obstacle to signing a formal peace accord in Paris at the end of October. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Indonesia, which drew up a peace plan and shepherded the negotiations, said the Cambodian leaders were close to reaching a lasting peace. A final compromise on structuring future elections capped three months of intense diplomacy during which the factions and their international patrons, China and Vietnam, resolved differences that kept Cambodia impoverished and at war for years. "Once China and Vietnam agreed to end it, the rest of the issues became minor details," an Asian diplomat says. But Cambodia's political transition and reconstruction will be uphill and costly, Western and Asian diplomats say. In the wake of last week's agreement, France, one of the five UN powers navigating the peace process, said about 200 UN peacekeeping soldiers, the first of a massive UN presence planned for Cambodia, will arrive in early November. Later that month, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the country's hereditary monarch, will take rebel leaders in the interim Supreme National Council back to Phnom Penh for the first time since 1978 when Vietnam invaded Cambodia to oust the then-ruling Khmer Rouge. The contingent will include some leaders of the Khmer Rouge, radical Marxists who are blamed for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians from execution and starvation in the 1970s.
Costly UN involvement In an unprecedented operation, the UN will administer the transition period and elections, expected by the end of 1992, and disarm the rival Cambodian armies which declared a cease-fire in June. The operation is projected to cost more than $2 billion, much of which is expected to be paid by Japan. Still, for many, the agreement is seen as an imperfect peace. The United States and Britain, which sit as permanent Security Council members with France, China, and the Soviet Union, are uneasy about a provision for disarming 70 percent of the armed forces rather than all the troops. The factions and the UN powers still must decide if the demobilization will include thousands of special A-3 security troops, trained and supported by Vietnam under the control of Phnom Penh's Interior Ministry. Vietnam pulled out most of its own troops in 1989. Although the future of the special forces has yet to be decided, a spokeswoman for Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Sihanouk's son, said Sihanoukist leaders were reassured since the Interior Ministry "will be under UN supervision" during the transition. The final breakthrough came last week when rival leaders agreed to a compromise electoral system proposed by the UN, under which the factions will be chosen for seats in a new Cambodian legislature on a proportional basis according to provinces. The plan was accepted reticently by Hun Sen, the reform-minded Cambodian prime minister who analysts say is under pressure from hard-line Phnom Penh Communists wary of the political compromises.
Return of Khmer Rouge The Phnom Penh regime, which is led by defectors from the Khmer Rouge and fears a return to power of its Marxist rivals, objected to total demobilization as a check on the jungle-based Khmer Rouge. In return Hun Sen agreed to drop charges of genocide during Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s. The Khmer Rouge faction, which is believed to have large hidden stores of Chinese-supplied weapons, has made significant military gains since the Vietnamese withdrawal in 1989. Since the peace process gained momentum in June, Hun Sen has been moving closer politically to Sihanouk and could split with other factions in Phnom Penh as an election approaches, Cambodian leaders and Western political observers predict. Sihanouk, who has taken the political center-stage by refereeing the negotiations, is expected by many Western diplomats to resume power even if the former king does not participate in an election. A centrist coalition involving Hun Sen and Sihanouk would be aimed at stopping both the Khmer Rouge, which has been backed by China, and orthodox Phnom Penh Communists linked to Vietnam. "The political realignment is already happening in Cambodia," says Prince Ranariddh, who now heads his father's political faction. Western and Asian analysts say the Khmer Rouge, whose brutal agrarian reconstruction devastated educated and urban Cambodians but did not affect many peasants in the countryside, has built some solid support in the Western provinces and could control up to one-fifth of the vote. Khmer Rouge leaders insist they will not run their own candidates but will back those from other political parties. "The Khmer Rouge is taking a wait-and-see attitude," says an Asian diplomat. "They are waiting and building for the long term."