More than two months after the Paris peace agreement on Cambodia, the relatively slow pace of deployment of U.N. peacekeeping troops is creating a sense of instability in the country, and there are fears that this could lead to upheaval, according to Cambodian officials and Western diplomats.
Although a cease-fire has been largely honored by the four factions in Cambodia’s civil war, guerrilla leaders admit that their troops are increasingly hard to discipline, and banditry in the countryside has escalated sharply.
Some officials even blame the rampant corruption in the Phnom Penh government of Premier Hun Sen on a power vacuum that has grown tangible since the 19-nation peace agreement was signed in October.
“Everybody is saying, ‘I have to make my money now before the U.N. gets here,’ ” said one official.
Only about 200 U.N. soldiers are in Cambodia, part of an early deployment called the United Nations Advance Mission in Cambodia, which is designed to work only until April.
But the main peacekeeping force, which may include 10,000 troops and civilian administrators, is still being mapped out at U.N. headquarters in New York.
“The time to act is now,” Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) said on a recent fact-finding mission. “If the U.N. does not move, the peace process could be put in jeopardy.”
On Friday, the United Nations announced that a senior Japanese member of the U.N. Secretariat, Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi, had been appointed to head the full U.N. force, which will be known as the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).
When the four-party coalition finally met on Cambodian soil for the first time in late December, the only measure it agreed on was to issue an appeal to the United Nations to speed deployment of the U.N. Transitional Authority.
“There’s a strong feeling here of ‘Where’s UNTAC?’ ” said a Western diplomat. “I don’t know if there really is instability, but there is a feeling of it here.”
That feeling has been reinforced by a week of protests, which were finally ended when the government called out the army, imposed a curfew and adopted emergency legislation banning demonstrations without official permission.
Heavily armed police still guard major intersections and block traffic when senior government officials move about Phnom Penh. After a week of relative calm, the 8 p.m. curfew has been eased back to 10 p.m., giving most people time to eat out before getting home.
The demonstrations are also said to have caused friction between Hun Sen and Chea Sim, head of the Cambodian People’s Party and the president of Parliament.
Hun Sen last week fired the minister of transport and communications, Ros Chhun, because of a growing corruption scandal. The riots erupted when angry demonstrators sacked a house belonging to Ros Chhun, accusing him of illegally appropriating the property from the government.
Ros Chhun is a relative by marriage of Chea Sim--a relationship that, in the minds of some, tended to turn the dismissal into an act of factionalism. Ros Chhun has reportedly fled to Vietnam since the riots.
Ironically for Hun Sen, the riots followed a demonstration a month earlier in which residents of Phnom Penh, apparently organized by the government, attacked the headquarters of the dreaded Khmer Rouge guerrillas. Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan was beaten by the demonstrators and narrowly escaped with his life.
The Khmer Rouge made clear that, if the government allowed similar demonstrations to mar the return of Khieu Samphan in the last week of December, the only way out would have been a resumption of the 13-year civil war.
While calling the army into Phnom Penh to quell the demonstrations proved temporarily effective, there was considerable grumbling from the soldiers, who at times sounded almost as anti-government as the protesters. About 70% of the military will be demobilized under the peace agreement, and the soldiers will be left without work.
Meanwhile, the government has kept a tight rein on the public statements of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the head of the four-party coalition body called the Supreme National Council.
During the rioting, Sihanouk suggested that U.N. forces immediately take over Phnom Penh if government forces were unable to control the violence, which obviously did not sit well with Hun Sen. Residents of Phnom Penh said the loquacious Sihanouk has been keeping an unusually low profile since the riots.