IN collective defiance to a Khmer Rouge challenge, United Nations agencies and a group of 33 nations decided yesterday to spend up to $880 million to rebuild Cambodia.
The unexpectedly high amount of foreign aid was pledged despite the threat of continued warfare by Khmer Rouge guerrillas, who refuse to be disarmed by UN forces under 1991 peace accords among four Cambodian factions.
"What is at stake here is the credibility of the UN," said George Kiejman, a French junior foreign minister, at a Tokyo conference.
The UN, which is assuming control over most of Cambodia's territory, requested last April that international donors give $595 million to restore the economy, government, and public facilities after two decades of conflict and Communist rule.
But a number of nations, led by Japan and the United States, showed enthusiasm for a larger total contribution to keep the peace process going in Cambodia. Japan pledged the largest amount, up to $200 million, while the US was second with $135 million, pending approval by Congress. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) offered $54 million.
"We do not believe that efforts [by the Khmer Rouge] to halt this process should be cost-free," said US Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, "nor do we believe that we should encourage parties bent on sabotaging the accords to entertain the prospect of success."
Khieu Samphan, nominal leader of the Khmer Rouge, asked the conference to dilute the powers of the existing government in Phnom Penh, which was installed after an invasion by Vietnam in 1979-80 that ousted the Khmer Rouge.
At present, the UN is relying mostly on the civil administration set up under the Vietnamese-backed regime of Hun Sen, a Khmer Rouge defector.
Instead, the Khmer Rouge wants special commissions of all four Cambodian factions to run foreign affairs, defense, finance, policy, and information. Khieu Samphan also demanded a fuller verification by the UN that all Vietnamese troops had withdrawn from the country.
"There is no way for us to get the Khmer Rouge [to be] reasonable," said Prince Norodom Sihanouk, head of the four-faction Cambodian council which works under UN authority. He said the Khmer Rouge, still led by Pol Pot, plans to retake Cambodia by force.
But several nations proposed that Khmer Rouge demands be partly accommodated. One possible move is to include the Khmer Rouge in the decisions on how to distribute the aid. Political talks are to continue today.
One sign of Khmer Rouge willingness to compromise was that they attended the conference after threatening to boycott it as late as Sunday.
If the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Khmer Rouge fighters in Cambodia are not disarmed, vast tracts of the country would be unavailable for economic aid or for an election planned for April or May 1993. Some 400 UN volunteers are already being deployed to help register voters.
"We certainly face severe difficulties," says Yasushi Akashi, head of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).
The $880 million in pledges amounts to about $100 for every Cambodian. Japanese officials admit they arranged a figure with two 8s because it represents good luck under Asian numerology.
While Mr. Akashi said UNTAC would not likely enter areas held by the Khmer Rouge, the US and other nations urged the UN to distribute aid in all areas.
The effort to begin pouring money into the poor countryside of Cambodia appeared designed to weaken support for the Khmer Rouge among a minority of Cambodians and force to compromise.
"If they don't play along, they don't get the money," said one high-level US state department official. The French junior minister said UN sanctions were being contemplated against the Khmer Rouge, "but we can give them one more chance."
In addition, China indicated at the conference that it would not let the Khmer Rouge, a close ally, upset the peace process.
"Cambodia is a test for the post-cold- war world," said UNDP administrator William Draper III.
The UNTAC head said he would deploy UN troops as much as possible around the country because "it will have a very beneficial effect in tranquilizing the situation.
"UNTAC has a political and moral role as a pacifier," he said, but added that UN troops will not use force against the Khmer Rouge except in self-defense.
A few nations, such as Australia, as well as private aid groups express concern that much of the aid might be directed at the returning 350,000 refugees from the Thai border. Such money would likely help Prince Sihanouk in an election.
Many nations expressed alarm at the Cambodia's rapid environmental degradation by excessive logging and gem mining. Some aid will be aimed to curb the problem, although Japan remains one of the largest consumers of Cambodian timber.