President Reagan, after meeting with opposition leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Tuesday endorsed sending an international peacekeeping force to Cambodia and convening a conference of world powers to bring stability to the war-torn Southeast Asian country.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that Reagan and Sihanouk “talked about a U.N. presence and a U.N. force,” although he noted that the United Nations has not dispatched a force to Cambodia before.
Fitzwater said Reagan believes Vietnam’s “illegal occupation of Cambodia is the root cause of the Cambodian conflict” and that the withdrawal of the estimated 120,000 Vietnamese troops from Cambodia “is the key to its resolution.”
Vietnam has promised to withdraw its troops by 1991 and end its armed support for the Phnom Penh government. However, Sihanouk, who leads a moderate faction that opposes the occupation and is likely to head a reconciliation government, sounded a cautionary note to reporters after the 10-minute meeting with Reagan.
Despite planned talks with the Cambodian regime, “there are still obstacles and difficulties on the road to a solution because of Vietnam, because of the puppet regime in Phnom Penh,” Sihanouk told White House reporters.
Nevertheless, Sihanouk was pleased with Reagan’s reaffirmation of support, and he moved to stake his claim to power in the event that the several Cambodian opposition groups establish a coalition government.
“I am accepted by the United States of America and also by all Cambodian factions,” he said.
Fitzwater said U.S. non-lethal aid to the non-Communist opposition in Cambodia totaled $3.5 million last year, and he noted that the Administration has requested $5 million for the current fiscal year.
Sihanouk told the reporters that he has asked France to organize a conference to include the United States, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, China and possibly other countries, along with the Cambodian political factions. Fitzwater said the United States supports such a conference, but he limited U.S. endorsement to a session “that would ratify a solution worked out by the parties involved.”
Similarly, State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley was careful during a news briefing to avoid portraying the United States in a leadership role in negotiations over Cambodia’s future.
Noting that the Communist Khmer Rouge, responsible for the deaths of about 1 million Cambodians during its reign from 1975 to 1978, should not be allowed to return to power, Oakley said that questions on ensuring that “have to be worked out among the forces in Cambodia. . . .”
‘Violate Human Rights’
Sihanouk said that Pol Pot, who led the Khmer Rouge, and others in the regime would have to be replaced if the Khmer Rouge expects to be part of a reconciliation government. The Khmer Rouge, he said, “continues to violate human rights.” He asserted that because it is important “to give the world some guarantee” about the bloody regime, its leaders “must go into exile, if possible,” to ensure that they do not again seize power.
Addressing reports suggesting that Pol Pot might go to China, Sihanouk said that, during talks recently with Chinese officials in Beijing, “I did not get any indication that China would like to accept Pol Pot in exile in China.”
Today, Sihanouk meets with Secretary of State George P. Shultz and will discuss the Khmer Rouge and prospects for a negotiated settlement in Cambodia.