Cambodia's Future

TO no one's surprise, the Khmer Rouge has proved an obstacle to implementing the United Nations peace plan for Cambodia. The radical Marxist group, best known for its murderous administration of the country in the late 1970s, has stubbornly refused to disarm in accord with UN directives. The Khmer Rouge lamely argues that Vietnamese soldiers are still in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge's real reason for undermining the peace agreement is fear of losing what power it retains. The group is despised by most Cambodians; its only claims to power are its guns and the 15 percent of Cambodian territory it still controls. Both would go in the transition to a new government.

What should the UN Security Council do?

As Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has asserted, the rebuilding of Cambodia must go forward, with or without the Khmer Rouge. What if the guerrillas revert to military action? The UN would then have another place where its peacekeeping might have to become peacemaking.

The UN officials in charge in Cambodia, as well as the five permanent members of the Security Council, who have spearheaded the peace process, are acutely aware of this danger. They have done their best to bring the Khmer Rouge around.

But, above all, they have made good on the UN's tremendous investment in Cambodia. Staff and peacekeeping troops are in place to administer the country as it moves toward elections next spring. If those elections have to be held in all parts of the country except those under Khmer Rouge control, so be it. Voter registration has been progressing quickly. Well over 100,000 Cambodian refugees have been transported back to their homeland. It's too late to turn back.

Cambodia's future hinges on the emergence of a legitimate government next year. That government will need continuing economic assistance from the international community, and it could need military backing too.

The Khmer Rouge may yet realize it has no choice but the UN plan. If that realization doesn't come, the group will only deepen its richly deserved isolation.

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