On Track in Cambodia

Conditions are favorable to complete the peace process, if the world community will firmly hold the Khmer Rouge to its commitments

KHMER ROUGE refusal to meet its freely made commitments threatens the Cambodian political settlement worked out under the sponsorship of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the Perm Five).

In the past, it was doubted that the peace process could succeed without the cooperation of the Khmer Rouge. For this reason, they were included in the negotiations and as members of the Cambodian Supreme National Council. It was never assumed, however, that they would meet their commitments. Now it may be possible to carry out the plan successfully without the Khmer Rouge. In any case, if they continue their obstruction, the effort must be made.

American policy on Cambodia that was developed in the late 1980s was pragmatically humanitarian. From 1978, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia, until 1986, United States policymakers believed that US interests were best served by a continuing stalemate between the Phnom Penh government and the Khmer Rouge. Part of US policy was to prevent a consolidation of Vietnamese hegemony over Cambodia and Laos; part was simply to maintain our important relations with the ASEAN states, who were thought to be strongly int erested in curbing any expansion of Vietnamese power and influence.

Frankly put, the US countenanced the revival and building up of the Khmer Rouge's political and military capability as ways to counterbalance Vietnamese might.

That changed in August 1986 when Soviet President Gorbachev gave his speech in Vladivostok, signaling a new Soviet openness in its approach to the Pacific. With Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev's speech, a break in the stalemate became possible, and a policy review in the executive branch was undertaken. It was understood by all that, in such a development, the principal aim of US policy would be to prevent a return to power of the Khmer Rouge; in other words, to find a way to control the monster that we had allowe d to be created.

It was strongly believed by officials concerned with these matters that no policy for a political solution could work without the cooperation of the Khmer Rouge, militarily one of the strongest of the Cambodian factions; with Vietnamese forces withdrawn, perhaps the strongest. This was especially the case since it was believed that the Chinese would not abandon their prot if the Khmer Rouge were entirely cut out of any settlement. It was recognized that the chances of drawing the Khmer Rouge into an agre ement seemed slight. Even if they did agree, it was assumed that they would cheat on the agreement, and there was always a danger that they could use terror to successfully subvert the electoral process.

But it was also believed that, if an agreement could be reached, international pressure could be more easily organized and more effectively brought to bear on the Khmer Rouge and on those they rely upon. Also, it was assumed that in truly free elections the Khmer Rouge would lose any claim to a future share in governing Cambodia.

The agreement in the fall of 1990 of the Perm Five on a general framework of principles to guide a Cambodian settlement brought this prospect into reach. The signing of the agreement by the four factions in November 1991 set the process in motion. Now that the Khmer Rouge are beginning to balk, the international community must be prepared to move forward without them if necessary.

The surprising thing is not that the Khmer Rouge are resisting compliance with the agreement, but that they signed it at all. They did sign, however. Now the international community can expect China, a Perm Five member, to hold the Khmer Rouge to the terms of the agreement or refuse its further support. By all reports, the Chinese have been acting in a neutral fashion since the signing of the agreement by the factions. It also may help to encourage continued Chinese cooperation that Vietnamese and Chines e relations have warmed somewhat in recent years.

Additionally, some of the changes elsewhere in the communist world affect the equation in Cambodia. The Vietnamese are exhausted and much more inward-looking than before. Also, without overstating, Hun Sen's government in Phnom Penh has made some progress in opening itself up and in developing a somewhat more independent stance vis-a-vis the Vietnamese. Both developments make it easier for China to press the Khmer Rouge for compliance or concur in their exclusion.

Finally, under current circumstances Thailand may not want to accept the blame for a failure of the peace process in Cambodia, in order to maintain lucrative arrangements for the purchase of timber and gem stones from Khmer Rouge areas. But the international community must make it clear that it cares about Thailand's conduct.

In sum, the Cambodian peace process is right on schedule. Khmer Rouge obstructionism was fully expectable. Now they must be made to comply with the terms of their agreement or be cut out of participation in the governance of Cambodia. But all parties to the agreement must help to enforce this, especially China and Thailand.

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