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Baker Asks End to Cambodia’s ‘Killing Fields’

Times Staff Writer

Secretary of State James A. Baker III called on a new 20-nation international conference Sunday to devise ways to transform “the killing fields of Cambodia into the fertile fields of a peaceful and prosperous people.”

But Baker was unable to say just how the long and bloody conflict can be settled, and he conceded that the road to Cambodian peace is “long and arduous.”

In their own speeches to the conference, Cambodia’s best-known political leaders--Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who enjoys U.S. support, and Hun Sen, premier in the current Vietnamese-backed government--dramatized the difficulty of the job by bickering openly on most issues, starting with who should be blamed for more than 15 years of Cambodian strife.

Effort to Head Off War

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Vietnam, which occupied Cambodia in 1978, has promised to withdraw the last of its troops by Sept. 27. The international conference was called to seek a peaceful change in government to head off a civil war, which all parties agree is almost inevitable without a negotiated settlement.

“The occupation should end,” Baker said. “The violence should end. The suffering should end. We know the path to Cambodian internal reconciliation is likely to be long and arduous. But today we take the first steps.”

Baker said that from the U.S. standpoint, there is no place in Cambodia’s long-term future for either the murderous Khmer Rouge, blamed for the deaths of more than a million Cambodians when it held power from 1975 until late 1978, or for Hun Sen’s government, which was installed by the Vietnamese invaders. But he conceded that both groups probably will have to be represented, along with Sihanouk and another non-Communist faction, in a transitional administration.

There was little disagreement among the 20 nations and four Cambodian factions on the general outline of a settlement. All sides supported the view that the Cambodians should choose their own leaders, probably in elections conducted by an interim government. But there was no consensus on the steps that are needed to clear the way for the elections.

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U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar set an ambitious timetable for the conference, calling for the foreign ministers and other top leaders attending Sunday’s opening session to return to Paris on Aug. 30 to sign a peace treaty. Lower-level diplomats were given the daunting task of trying to draft such an agreement in the next month.

However, a senior State Department official said that Baker has no plans to return to Paris, probably indicating that Washington does not expect an early agreement.

The secretary of state plans to return to Washington today. A U.S. official said that he may, before leaving Paris, hold “substantial discussions” with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen. The meeting, if it comes off, would be the first high-level U.S.-China contact since Chinese troops crushed the pro-democracy movement in early June.

Although the conference seating plan--done in alphabetical order in French--placed Baker and Qian next to each other, U.S. officials said they did not speak to each other at the table. They did exchange greetings earlier when conference participants posed for a group photograph.

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He Backs Sihanouk

In his speech, Baker said the proposed interim government must be led by Sihanouk, the traditional Cambodian leader who was ousted in 1970 by pro-American Gen. Lon Nol. Lon Nol was toppled in his turn by the Khmer Rouge.

Although Baker made it clear that he does not expect either the Khmer Rouge or the Hun Sen faction to win a Cambodian election, he said Washington would accept such an outcome if it emerged from fair balloting.

“The United States stands ready to recognize the victor in such elections, regardless of who that victor is,” Baker said.

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Sihanouk, in his speech, said Vietnam is entirely to blame for Cambodia’s present difficulties. Although he said that five of his children and 14 of his grandchildren were among the Cambodians murdered by the Khmer Rouge, Sihanouk said that the Hun Sen regime has also been guilty of atrocities.

An Uneasy Coalition

Sihanouk and the other non-Communist faction, led by former Premier Son Sann, are in an uneasy coalition with the Khmer Rouge. Sihanouk has said many times that he would prefer to have the Khmer Rouge represented in an interim government, rather than leaving them outside where they could be expected to use their substantial military muscle to wage civil war.

Dismissing the argument--advanced by the United States, among others--that the Khmer Rouge and the present government are equally reprehensible, Sihanouk said: “The war in Cambodia only exists . . . between Vietnam, the aggressor, and Cambodia, the aggressed party.”

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He also scoffed at Vietnam’s promise to withdraw its troops before the end of September. He said that Hanoi would leave behind “a number of Vietnamese disguised as Cambodian” soldiers and at least a million Vietnamese settlers who have moved across the border. He called on the United Nations to assure the departure of the Vietnamese, both military and civilian.

For his part, Hun Sen insisted that after Sept. 26 “there will no longer be a single Vietnamese soldier” in Cambodia.

Pol Pot Blamed

He said that “the genocidal regime of Pol Pot,” the Khmer Rouge leader, was responsible for all of Cambodia’s present difficulties.

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He also asserted that his regime’s army is “the only effective force that is available now to oppose their (the Khmer Rouge) return to power.” Although Western analysts have estimated Vietnam’s troop strength in Cambodia at between 60,000 and 70,000, Hun Sen said that only 26,000 are left.

Times staff writer Rone Tempest contributed to this story.


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