Cambodia: A New Government, Threat of Khmer Rouge Lingers

AS UN forces in Cambodia wind down their most ambitious peacekeeping mission in history - to demobilize Cambodian armed forces and organize free and fair elections to choose a new government - hopes that democracy and peace will prevail are mixed with fears that the operation will fail to achieve its promise.

Norodom Sihanouk was again named king on Sept. 24, and a new government was installed in keeping with a constitution approved by lawmakers elected in May.

The restoration of the monarchy and inauguration of a new leadership officially ended the 18-month UN operation that brought Cambodia back into the international community, but was marred by setbacks that offer important lessons for future peacekeeping operations.

After the UN spent $2 billion on a mission that involved more than 22,000 people, including 20 killed in warfare, Cambodia remains rife with political elitism, lawlessness, and violence by Khmer Rouge guerrillas who still control about 20 percent of the country.

The UN mission in Cambodia suffered several setbacks, the most serious being the failure to disarm and demobilize the combatants. That has allowed the Khmer Rouge to remain a threat to the peace process.

At times, the UN operation appeared near collapse. Then came the elections, the first multiparty voting in 83 years and cornerstone of the peace agreement signed in 1991 by the four warring factions - the Vietnamese-installed government and three opposition groups.

The Khmer Rouge originally signed the accord, but later pulled out of the peace process and threatened to sabotage the ballot with violence. A voter turnout of 90 percent in the face of such threats underscored Cambodians' desire to build a better future and led to swift international recognition of the new government.

But the country is a long way from being an open, democratic society. The Constitution, which gives broad, undefined powers to King Sihanouk, was drawn up in secret by a small group of politicians and rubber-stamped by the 120-member constituent assembly.

Although economic development fell outside the scope of the UN mission, one senior UN official recommends steps be taken in future operations to guarantee economic development to bolster political reforms.

Michael Williams, director of human rights and information for the UN mission in Cambodia, said most Cambodians assumed the operation would bring improved infrastructure to attract foreign investment and economic development.

``If economic development does not take place in Cambodia, then there's no doubt that political gains of the last year will be undermined and that the country will probably descend into another spiral of violence,'' Mr. Williams says.

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