Goal in Paris: A Cambodia Solution : Government and Resistance Factions Will Meet Monday
On May, 7, 1954, the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union assembled in Geneva with hope of achieving a peaceful settlement to the war then raging in Indochina. Only the previous day, the French had suffered a humiliating defeat by the Viet Minh at Dienbienphu, and Washington was gloomily forecasting the fall of “dominoes” across the region.
All that was agreed to in Geneva was a cease-fire, to give the countries of the region time to work out a political settlement that has never materialized. As Stanley Karnow wrote in his history of Vietnam, the Geneva conference became “an interlude between two wars--or, rather, a lull in the same war.”
Starting Monday, a series of meetings are to take place in Paris that will, it is hoped, result in a peaceful solution to what has been described as the Third Indochina War: Vietnam’s disputed occupation of Cambodia for more than 10 years.
The Paris talks follow Vietnam’s announcement earlier this year that it would withdraw all its forces, estimated at 60,000 to 90,000 troops, from Cambodia by the end of September.
Vietnamese withdrawal would leave the Hanoi-installed government in Phnom Penh, headed by Premier Hun Sen, facing a resistance coalition composed of three elements: Prince Norodom Sihanouk and his followers; a non-Communist group called the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, led by a former premier, Son Sann, and the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Communists.
The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979--a reign of terror in which 1 million people are believed to have died as the result of brutality and starvation. Although they have been in exile for a decade, the Khmer Rouge has a large and well-equipped guerrilla army.
On Monday, Sihanouk is scheduled to meet with Hun Sen, continuing a dialogue the two men started in Indonesia in May. On Tuesday, they will be joined by representatives of the Khmer Rouge and Son Sann.
The two meetings are aimed at resolving internal conflicts in Cambodia raised by the prospect of Vietnam’s departure. Included are such thorny issues as elections and the composition of an interim government.
On July 30, an international conference on Cambodia will be convened in Paris. Present will be the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China. This is the first time that China, a supporter of the Khmer Rouge, has agreed to take part in a public forum on the future of Cambodia.
The conference is expected to last a month. After the first couple of days, it will break up into three commissions.
One will consider ways of monitoring the Vietnamese withdrawal, to ensure that all of Hanoi’s forces actually leave by the end of September. This group will also look for ways to ensure that military supplies to the resistance factions, now based in Thailand, are halted at the time of the withdrawal.
A second commission will discuss ways of supervising the peace in the weeks after the Vietnamese withdrawal. Hun Sen and Sihanouk have already agreed that this responsibility will be undertaken by representatives of two Western countries, two socialist countries and two nonaligned countries. It is not clear whether this will be a small group or a full-scale peacekeeping force similar to those deployed under U.N. auspices in the Middle East.
The third commission’s task is to consider the repatriation of Cambodian refugees. There are more than 300,000 in Thailand alone. Questions of economic aid for rebuilding Cambodia will be discussed.
Some Western diplomats believe that the presence of the five major powers, which back different factions in Cambodia, will provide sufficient momentum to ensure some kind of progress in the talks.
“No one in Paris will want to be seen as the guy responsible for the talks breaking down,” a Western diplomat who follows affairs in the region said.
On the other hand, some analysts note that Hun Sen and Sihanouk are still far apart on key issues, and they express doubt that the problems can be solved in Paris. Some predict that fighting will be inevitable after a Vietnamese withdrawal, because the strength of the four factions is yet to be tested.
“With the inability of Hun Sen and Sihanouk to agree on power sharing, the only way the conflict is going to get to the final stage is through a test of strength,” said Michael Liefer, an Indochina expert at the London School of Economics. A central issue in the dispute is the role of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Hun Sen is opposed to any Khmer Rouge participation in the government, while Sihanouk and such outside forces as China and the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations insist that the Khmer Rouge cannot be left out.
Seeks Coalition Regime
Sihanouk has called on the Phnom Penh government to be replaced by a four-party interim coalition until elections can take place. Hun Sen has flatly rejected the notion of a quadripartite regime.
Vietnam, which has considerable sway over Phnom Penh, has taken a somewhat softer approach than Hun Sen. Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach has said that his government could support a U.N. peacekeeping force, which Hun Sen has also ruled out, provided that the United Nations declares the Cambodian seat vacant. The seat is now occupied by a representative of the resistance coalition.
Hun Sen’s government has adopted a number of internal changes in an effort to convince Sihanouk and international public opinion that it is committed to change. The constitution has been rewritten to permit private enterprise, private ownership of land and freedom of religion. And earlier this month, Cambodia declared itself politically neutral.
Sihanouk has blown hot and cold in recent months about reaching an accommodation with Hun Sen. As one analyst noted, Sihanouk is seeking to have himself installed as president of Cambodia in the tradition of the late French President Charles de Gaulle--with sweeping powers--while Hun Sen seeks to cast him as a figurehead.