The Cambodian government has guaranteed the safety of Khmer Rouge guerrilla leaders if they return to the capital after being driven out by a mob attack, Prince Norodom Sihanouk said Friday.
"(Premier) Hun Sen’s government has given me this morning the guarantee it will be able to give Khieu Samphan and Son Sen and other members of (the Khmer Rouge delegation) full protection and also a solid guarantee of their safety and security,” Sihanouk told reporters.
He spoke at his royal palace after a ceremony to accredit Australia’s new ambassador, John Holloway, to Cambodia’s Supreme National Council, a reconciliation group that Sihanouk chairs.
He said the Khmer Rouge would be given new houses protected by government police and would be visited often by government leaders to ensure their safety.
Asked if the Khmer Rouge would now return to Phnom Penh, Sihanouk replied: “I am more than optimistic because they already gave me the assurance that they will come back when they receive serious guarantees for their safety from the government. And I have got it.
“Hun Sen will give the Khmer Rouge all needed assurances and guarantees,” he said.
Meanwhile, U.N. peacekeeping troops have withdrawn from front-line positions in northwestern Cambodia, fearing revenge attacks by Khmer Rouge guerrillas, a senior Australian officer said Friday.
Two days after arriving in Battambang, Cambodia’s second-biggest city, a three-man detachment of Australian signalers and 31 French transport specialists were ordered to return to Phnom Penh after the attack on Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan and his defense minister, Son Sen, in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. They were expected to be redeployed soon, the officer said.
Khieu Samphan was forced to flee the capital--beaten and bloodied--just hours after he returned under the terms of a U.N.-sponsored peace accord signed last month in Paris between the government and a three-faction guerrilla coalition that includes the Khmer Rouge. He had been in exile for 13 years.
His residence was stormed and sacked by a mob of hundreds of people seeking retribution for relatives killed during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-1979 revolution--its “Killing Fields” years--which cost the lives of more than a million Cambodians.
Khieu Samphan and Son Sen flew back to Bangkok, Thailand, and were followed by the rest of their delegation the next day.
Khieu Samphan and Son Sen are the Khmer Rouge’s two representatives on Sihanouk’s SNC. The body had been expected to meet for the first time in the Cambodian capital next week.
The SNC will now meet Tuesday in the Thai resort of Pattaya to discuss the security of its members.
“After Pattaya we will be able to work normally in Phnom Penh,” Sihanouk said.
The Khmer Rouge said Friday it would abide by Cambodia’s peace treaty and attend the meeting in Thailand.
The SNC is to represent Cambodian sovereignty until free elections scheduled for 1993, and most Western governments have accredited themselves to it. They have not recognized the present Phnom Penh government because it was installed by invading Vietnamese troops that drove the Khmer Rouge from power in early 1979.