By Sri Kandi
PHNOM PENH — Cambodia is tense and uncertain. The present impasse cannot go on much longer, with the Khmer Rouge continuing to flout all the conditions laid down in the Paris peace agreement signed last October, and the UNTAC (United Nations Transition Authority in Cambodia) going ahead as though the agreement is in effect.
The repatriation of refugees has picked up pace in the last month, although it is well behind the original schedule, and it seems unlikely that all 350,000 people will be returned to Cambodia before the elections (if they take place as scheduled next May).
The promised land grants to each returning family have given way to an option of $US50 cash per person, because unoccupied or unowned land is not available in the amounts needed, and land mines are a barrier to opening the vacant land that does exist. The $50 won't last very long, and the inevitable drift to the town will occur.
UNTAC electoral teams have been mapping the country and drawing up estimates of population distribution. The expected 4.5 million voters figure has now been revised to over 5 million, indicating an even larger proportion of Cambodia's population living in the 90% of the country controlled by the State of Cambodia (SOC).
The Electoral Law was passed by the SNC (Supreme National Council, grouping the SOC and the three opposing factions) on August 15 after heated debate on voter eligibility. The Khmer Rouge wanted an ethnic Cambodian qualification, to exclude ethnic Vietnamese who may have lived inside Cambodia for generations. The law as passed allows a vote to anyone born in Cambodia with one parent
born in Cambodia, or anyone born outside Cambodia with one parent and one grandparent born in Cambodia.
The registration books are now open. Overseas Cambodians must return to Cambodia to register, although they will be able to cast absentee ballots in several countries, including Australia.
Each party with provisional registration may observe and challenge any voter who seeks registration on the electoral roll. Parties will have to prove support from 5000 voters before they can join the formal election campaign and appear on the ballot. Voting will occur in province-wide electorates for lists of candidates put up by each party — so the voter will not be able to select individuals to vote for (or against).
So far the Khmer Rouge has not allowed either electoral or military teams into areas under its control. The time is fast approaching (some say September 15 is the absolute deadline) by which the teams will have to move into KR areas or to announce that the mandate from Paris is unenforceable.
At that stage the UN Security Council could redefine UNTAC's mandate to go ahead with the demobilisation and elections in the areas controlled by the SOC and the other factions, while leaving the KR-controlled areas alone, and the KR party name off the ballot.
This solution had been resisted, as it could be tantamount to a partition of the country. However, it would seem preferable to the other option of the UN withdrawing completely and leaving the economy in tatters and the KR in a militarily stronger position than at the time of the signing of the Paris agreements, having had almost a year of fairly unfettered opportunity to extend their territory.
Japan and Thailand (after discussions involving China, the KR's main backer) have now come up with yet another "compromise" to try to induce the KR back into the process. This is to set up some further consultative committees to the SNC, which would further erode the SOC's administrative jurisdiction.
The SOC came up with a surprise proposal last week that an election for head of state be held before the Constituent Assembly elections laid down in the Paris agreement. It would seem that this is an attempt to keep UNTAC in place to continue the voter registration and actually conduct a ballot that is acceptable to the KR, as all factions will most likely support Sihanouk, whom they have endorsed as Chairperson of the SNC.
However, it carries with it the problem of requiring a revision of the Paris agreement, which could open the door to the KR's many proposed revisions. Up to now the SOC has adamantly refused to entertain any revision, and has pressed for implementation of the agreement as signed.
The KR's other demand on the verification of withdrawal of Vietnamese troops is still being pursued, and along with it comes a most sinister anti-Vietnamese campaign from the KR. Ominously, the campaign has been supported by the other opposition factions. It seems only Sihanouk himself is standing with the SOC against this dangerous manoeuvre. Several massacres have already been reported. The UNTAC investigating team found that the recent killings in Kampot were carried out by KR wearing government military uniforms.
The UNTAC juggernaut continues to be deployed throughout the country. However, it is remote from the day to day life of the people except in its economic impact — with inflation of 100% this year, and rising more sharply over the past month — and its impact on traffic and road accidents.
Whether it will stay to carry out the repatriation, military and electoral tasks, rather than just establish its own superstructure, is yet to be seen.