UN Troops Coax Khmer Rouge
International frustration is increasing as Cambodian rebels ignore peace accords
SISOPHON, CAMBODIA — WHILE the United Nations Security Council tries to push the Khmer Rouge into compliance with an international peace plan, Dutch Marines assigned to disarm the radical Marxist faction along the Thai border in their largest stronghold are trying to build trust as a way of coaxing cooperation.
The Khmer Rouge has been violating the peace accord it signed in Paris last October, as seen in its capture this week of two Cambodian villages, and is now setting new conditions for its demobilization. But the Marines, who are acting as UN peacekeepers, have offered to investigate alleged violations by the other rebel factions, a political officer says. "We will try to have regular contact with [the Khmer Rouge] to slowly build up some trust," says another officer.
"I am confident that they will cooperate at some point; whether it is soon or not, I am not sure," says Capt. Gerrit Scheffers of the Marines' Charlie Company, which now monitors the faction's movements. Hearts and minds campaign
So far, the Khmer Rouge is not budging. Ignoring the schedule for demobilization, it demands that the UN verify the full withdrawal of Vietnamese troops and dismantle the administration left over from the Hun Sen government Vietnam installed. Until then, Khmer Rouge troops seek territorial gains, pursue their "hearts and minds" political campaign, and take potshots at UN helicopters.
The Khmer Rouge plays up anti-Vietnamese sentiments in the region, but UN observers have not found evidence of Vietnamese troops. Most of the several thousand Vietnamese settlers in this area predate by several decades the 1979 Vietnamese invasion.
The other rebel factions have also complained about Vietnamese troops and other aspects of UNTAC's implementation but, unlike the Khmer Rouge, they have complied with the peace accord.
Most international participants think the Khmer Rouge actions are a delaying tactic. The danger is that if the Khmer Rouge delays too long, it will sabotage the Paris accord, say officials of the UN Transitional Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC).
Observers say rupture is about two months away. By then the other factions will buck at having complied with the demobilization phase and may demand to remobilize. And in two months the rainy season will be in full force, compounding the challenge of implementing Phase III: elections by May 1993.
According to UNTAC officials, the Khmer Rouge has yet to meet Phase I conditions: It provided an inaccurate list of arms and troops, failed to release political prisoners, and has not allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Khmer Rouge prisons. According to the agreement, demobilization should be finished by October when a voter registration drive will begin.
UNTAC took "direct control" of five key ministries in early July, including Public Security, National Defense, Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Information. This measure was meant to ensure the administration's neutrality in preparing for the elections, not to replace the administration, as the Khmer Rouge demands.
The faction's lack of compliance with the peace accord is reflected in its reluctant contact with peacekeepers. A small UN military observer team has been set up in the western city of Pailin, the so-called Khmer Rouge capital, but their movements have been severely restricted. And so far the Khmer Rouge has stiff-armed the Dutch Marines, allowing them to patrol nearby but forcing the Dutch to relocate their headquarters in Sisophon rather than in Pailin as planned.
"It is disappointing that the whole cantonment process is maybe coming to a grinding halt because of the Khmer Rouge," says Maj. Jaap Dykstra.
During several weeks of senior-level meetings with the Khmer Rouge in Pattaya, Thailand, the Dutch gained assurances they would not be attacked.
Visitors to the Dutch camps found the Marines purposely defending themselves lightly with a single row of barbed wire, some mortars, and 50mm machine guns with night scopes. Regular patrols around Sisophon have brought the Dutch into contact with well-armed Khmer Rouge patrols; so far, the patrols have been peaceful.
"If they want to infiltrate us and blow up the ammunition or send a few mortars in here, they can get us; we are sitting ducks," says Engineering Cpl. Hans Dun. Khmer Rouge territory is only several miles away and Dutch patrols are sent daily to check the "front line." Unlikely to intervene
Most of the Marines believe that if they suffer casualties, they will be withdrawn. And they are unlikely to intervene in a fight between the Khmer Rouge and another faction. They are peace-keepers, not peace-enforcers, a marine says.
Officials at UNTAC's headquarters in Phnom Penh hope the Khmer Rouge are taking note of the more muscular approach being taken by the international community in Yugoslavia.
International frustration at Khmer Rouge noncompliance has prompted diplomats to discuss possible sanctions, although most acknowledge these are months away. Some options include pressing China to close the Khmer Rouge's radio transmitter in southern China, seizing the Khmer Rouge's bank assets, and closing off the Khmer Rouge's lucrative timber and gem trade with Thailand. The latter would require the cooperation of the Thai military, which has long benefited from "taxing" the cross-border trade.
In the aftermath of the Thai military's May massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok, some observers think Thai military officials may consider cutting off this trade. Improved image
"They desperately need something to help improve their international image," says a Western military analyst in Bangkok. He points to the recent Thai success in pressuring the Khmer Rouge to appear at the aid-pledging conference in Tokyo as evidence of Thailand's commitment to make the UN plan work.
Another reason the military might go along: Thai traders along the border report that the harvest of Cambodian resources, especially sapphires and rubies, is showing signs of declining because of the overuse of bulldozers in the last couple of years.
There is some skepticism about how effective sanctions could be - especially against the gem trade - even with the Thai military's cooperation. Other analysts say the focus on revenue is missing the point: The Khmer Rouge has money for quite some time. What the rebels fear more is the consequences of foreign contact.
"The [Khmer Rouge] commanders must prepare for the future because I don't think they can live in Cambodia after everything has changed," says a Thai trader, referring to the entry of UN peacekeepers in Khmer Rouge territory. "People are very angry at [the Khmer Rouge]; nobody loves them."
Based near the border, the trader has long dealt with the Khmer Rouge and other Cambodians. Nowadays, he says, "They all want freedom, especially the freedom to dig for gems on their own land."