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U.S. Military Aid Needed, Sihanouk Says : Cambodian Bolstering Position for Battle, New Round of Peace Talks

Times Staff Writer

Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the Cambodian resistance leader, said here Tuesday that he is seeking military aid from the United States to strengthen his position for battle in Cambodia and peace talks in France.

“Up to now we got from the United States of America non-lethal aid, but we want a few lethal aids,” Sihanouk said in English at a press conference at the state guest house in Beijing where he resides.

He said that his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, is now in Washington seeking weapons from the U.S. government.

Heads 3-Faction Coalition

Sihanouk said he still hopes for a comprehensive settlement of the decade-old Cambodian conflict. But it is possible, he said, that Vietnam may simply withdraw its troops from Cambodia, leaving forces of the Vietnamese-installed Cambodian government and the Cambodian resistance locked in battle.

Sihanouk heads an uneasy three-faction resistance coalition that in addition to his own forces includes the army of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia with a murderous Communist regime from 1975 through 1978, and forces of the pro-Western leader Son Sann.

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The Khmer Rouge, armed by China, are by far the strongest of the guerrilla factions. But Sihanouk said that he and Son Sann hope to build up their armies with the help of the United States.

“In the Administration of President Bush, there are high-ranking personalities who are sympathetic to us--to Son Sann’s forces and to Sihanouk’s armed forces--so they want both nationalist armed forces to be better equipped and better armed,” Sihanouk said.

A major purpose of the news conference was to announce the formation of a High Council for National Defense, headed by Sihanouk, to ensure cooperation between the three resistance forces. Sihanouk said this is a step toward merging the three forces into a single army.

Son Sann and Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan appeared with Sihanouk at the press conference in a show of unity. But Sihanouk acknowledged a possibility that they might again fall to fighting among themselves if they succeed in defeating their common enemies.

Sihanouk announced that the coalition has agreed to hold new peace talks in France with the Cambodian government of Premier Hun Sen. Representatives of each faction will meet in Paris next month, and then a meeting of top faction leaders or their personal representatives is planned for June or July, he said.

Little Progress Made

Two rounds of top-level talks among the Cambodian factions have taken place in Jakarta, Indonesia, with little visible progress.

But the Paris meeting would come after Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev meets Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in mid-May in Beijing, and the Beijing meeting could establish the framework of a Cambodian settlement.

Support from the Soviet Union has been essential for Vietnam’s intervention in Cambodia, while China has provided support to resistance forces. Both the Soviet Union and China now want to end the conflict. Hanoi has promised to pull its troops out of Cambodia by September if there is a political settlement.

There have also been reports that Hanoi and Beijing have privately reached agreement that Vietnam will withdraw by September, even in the absence of an internal Cambodian settlement, and China in return will end its aid to the resistance forces.

This scenario, Sihanouk said, would resemble the current situation in Afghanistan, where Soviet forces have withdrawn and the Kabul government is fighting for survival against guerrilla forces. He predicted that in such a situation, the Cambodian resistance would defeat the Phnom Penh government.

“If we have to do that, we will do that--Afghan style,” he said.

But with Khieu Samphan sitting by his side, Sihanouk also acknowledged that his forces and those of the Khmer Rouge might clash in the future.

There has been widespread international concern that the Khmer Rouge, as the strongest guerrilla faction, might try to push its coalition partners aside and retake absolute power in the wake of a Vietnamese withdrawal.

The Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, has been blamed for the deaths of a million or more Cambodians in the 3 1/2 years it ruled the country. Pol Pot has officially retired from the Khmer Rouge leadership, but he is believed to retain great influence over the shadowy organization.

Sihanouk said he will not accept Pol Pot in any future government and that Khieu Samphan has agreed on behalf of the Khmer Rouge that Pol Pot will remain in retirement.

“If they break their promise, my army, under the command of my son Ranariddh, will fight them . . . (though) we may not win,” Sihanouk said.

Khieu Samphan sat smiling while Sihanouk spoke of Pol Pot, then endorsed Sihanouk’s comments as “very fair.”

Khieu Samphan also sought to explain why the Khmer Rouge is willing to place itself under Sihanouk’s leadership and promote his peace plan, which seeks a government coalition encompassing all Cambodian factions and the introduction of U.N. peacekeeping forces.

A Struggle for Country

“The present struggle of our people is not a struggle for ideology,” Khieu Samphan said. “It is a struggle for the survival of Cambodia. . . . We need unity inside Cambodia to be able to defend Cambodia, and we also need the support of the international community. Therefore we have to have a strategy, a policy, which is in conformity with these realities.”

Sihanouk said that he, Khieu Samphan and Son Sann plan to give a banquet for Thai Prime Minister Chatchai Choonhawan, who arrived in Beijing on Tuesday evening for talks with Chinese leaders that are expected to focus on Cambodia.


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