THE departure of the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh on Tuesday could be a major step toward deeper chaos in Cambodia. But it is hardly surprising. The Khmer, sniffing the political winds and finding little support for their cause, do not want the May 23-27 United Nations-sponsored elections to take place and will do just about anything to stop it. Cambodia would benefit from such elections, and the UN has not yet canceled them. But at this point, such elections would probably take place in a virtual war. Si nce the Khmer have also now withdrawn from the Supreme National Council, the body formed by the UN to seat the four major Cambodian political factions, the Khmer could declare the elections illegal. What a state of affairs.
When in 1991 the Khmer Rouge signed onto the most far-reaching and expensive UN peace process ever, only the most optimistic thought it was anything more than a concession to the Chinese (who helped talk them into it) and a way to rebuild a power structure in the country. The proposition that the Pol Pot-led Khmer Rouge, a fanatical rural movement that committed one of the century's worst genocides against its own people in the late 1970s, would begin to reform and behave was dubious. But it was a gamble
the world community thought had to be taken.
In recent months the Khmer have been busy massacring various groups - Vietnamese, Cambodians, and UN peacekeeping officials. Some 45 Vietnamese were killed this month. Evidence exists that the Khmer plans to kill more Vietnamese soon, and this week some 25,000 fled to their homeland. Since March there have been nine separate attacks on UN peacekeepers and officials associated with the coming elections. Seven have been killed. In the past few days, the UN has been handing out weapons to thousands of civil ian police.
No population has suffered more tortures in the past 20 years than the Cambodians. But now a stark question must be faced: Is the UN prepared to continue the old process with the increased support required? Or is a new strategy required that will isolate the Khmer through force? If so, who will bell the cat?