An Uncooperative Khmer Rouge Prompts Delicate UN Diplomacy


THE United Nations Security Council is carefully weighing its next move to keep the Cambodian peace process on track.

After deliberations over the next few days, the Council is expected to reaffirm the long-scheduled May 1993 date for legislative elections, reprimand the radical Khmer Rouge faction for failing to cooperate in the peace process, and readjust the duties of UN peacekeeping troops. The forces will take on more rigorous monitoring and prevention of cease-fire violations and provide security for the election process.

The new Council resolution also may call for economic sanctions against the Khmer Rouge, but the timing and scope of that decision remain controversial. The Council also might call for presidential elections, a vehicle likely to bring former ruler Prince Norodom Sihanouk to power.

Much of the Council debate is likely to center on the powerful Khmer Rouge which refuses to disarm its troops or allow UN supervision of land under its control. The faction agreed to both provisions in signing the Paris peace accords last fall. Yet two major recent diplomatic efforts have failed to persuade the group to rejoin the peace process.

The Khmer Rouge say the neutral political environment promised by the accords does not exist, that the Vietnamese-installed government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has too much power, and that Vietnamese troops remain in Cambodia, often disguised as civilians. Vietnam says it pulled all troops out in 1989. The UN says it has found no evidence to the contrary.

Prason Soonsiri, the foreign minister of Thailand, a nation which is a longtime ally of the Khmer Rouge and enjoys a lucrative trading relationship with the group in gems and timber, says elections should be delayed until all four Cambodian factions settle their differences.

The Security Council is expected to hold to the date but says that the Khmer Rouge are always welcome to rejoin the election process. "We need their cooperation not to continue the civil war," one Asian diplomat notes. "If we isolate them we'll be back to square one."

Yet in its last resolution on Cambodia, the Council demanded full Khmer Rouge cooperation by Nov. 15. "We're limited in what we can do, but we've got to do something," insists one Western diplomat. "I think there's a lot of Council sentiment for some type of tougher action."

For a mix of reasons the Council may decide at this point to move more cautiously, giving the Khmer Rouge one last warning. Council votes on Cambodia have been unanimous so far. China, the Khmer Rouge's onetime close ally, has been aboard.

France and Indonesia, the co-chairmen of the Cambodian peace conference in Paris and leaders of recent talks in Beijing, urge in a new report to the secretary-general that the Khmer Rouge be condemned for hampering the peace process and tougher steps taken later if the obstruction continues.

The international community's approach to the Cambodian problem has been carefully calibrated, says Frederick Brown, an East Asia expert at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

"The process may look terribly disorderly and cataclysmic but it's not. [Council members] are arguing a case before the court of international public opinion," Mr. Brown says. "They're backing the Khmer Rouge into a corner bit by bit by bit."

Yet some Council diplomats question whether any UN action could ever really change Khmer Rouge behavior.

"Even if you invoked the toughest sanctions ... it's unlikely that the Khmer Rouge are going to say, `Whoops - OK, we'll open up our areas and have an election,' " a Western diplomat says.

France particularly hopes the new resolution will include some mention of possible presidential elections. "If Prince Sihanouk is elected, it's going to be much more difficult for the Khmer Rouge to oppose him because they've always said they recognize him as the head of state," one French diplomat says.

"To have Sihanouk there to unite the forces other than the Khmer Rouge would certainly be a cosmetic help, and it might be an actual political help," Mr. Brown says. "It might make it more palatable for the Khmer Rouge to come in."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.