By Nick Johnson
PHNOM PENH — The decision by the Khmer Rouge leadership to close its headquarters and move out of this capital in mid-April is a further indication that the terrorist organisation will do everything possible to prevent the holding of United Nations-sponsored elections in May.
A series of bloody incidents has shown that the KR has not changed its methods in the least. These include the slaying of ethnic Vietnamese, the cold-blooded murder of Bulgarian United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC) troops in their own camp, the death of two Bangladeshi UNTAC soldiers and the murder of a Japanese election volunteer.
In addition to targeting UNTAC in an attempt to disrupt the election, the KR has opened a terror campaign against ethnic Vietnamese residents, killing 33 in one incident when a whole fishing village was gunned down, and bombing three Vietnamese restaurants in Phnom Penh early this month.
The KR claims that thousands of Vietnamese soldiers are present in Cambodia, both in Cambodian army uniform and "disguised" as farmers. The accusation is absurd on its face and has never been accompanied by specifics, but it serves the KR as a pretext for refusing to abide by the Paris peace agreement, which it signed in October 1991.
UNTAC officials have been largely incapable of recognising the reality, but the KR has clearly abandoned the peace agreement and adopted the goal of physically disrupting the elections.
In an interview with the Phnom Penh Post, KR leader Khieu Samphan claimed on April 3 that the elections were a plot by Western powers to destroy the KR and would not bring peace. He said the elections should be abandoned for a "national reconciliation government" led by the country's titular head, Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
The KR hopes that, in the wake of a failed election, Sihanouk will step in to form a coalition government which includes the KR. Sihanouk has already announced his own plans for a second "National Crusade" (an echo of his peculiar campaign for independence in the 1950s), including the formation of a coalition government under his own leadership.
"There will certainly be more incidents such as the launching of hand grenades against the Vietnamese in Phnom Penh", Khieu Samphan told the Post. "We can foresee that the situation will get more unstable, more insecure, more confusing. The popular movement against the Vietnamese will increase, there will be more attacks."
The warning to abandon the polls or face renewed warfare marked a further deterioration of the political situation here on the eve of the official election campaign. In preceding weeks, the value of the local currency, the riel, plunged and inflation surged, a mass exodus of ethnic Vietnamese got under way, and there were a number of attacks on UN posts in the provinces.
It is rumoured that the Khmer Rouge and FUNCINPEC, the party led by Sihanouk's son, sent carpet baggers into Phnom Penh with big quantities of dollars (gained most likely from their lucrative gem mining and logging operations in areas near the Thai border) in order to destabilise the currency.
The Khmer Rouge is putting additional pressure on its own allies, FUNCINPEC and Son Sann's Khmer People's National Liberation Front, to withdraw from the elections. The KPNLF has split into the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party headed by Son Sann and the Liberal Democratic Party headed by General Sak Sutsakan, both of which are fielding candidates.
Within both FUNCINPEC and the BLDP, party leaderships are split on whether to pull out of the elections. According to the Post, Son Sann has expressed a desire to abandon the elections. But the two parties have come under strong pressure from their foreign backers, who continue to supply covert funding, to stay in.
The Post reports that Khieu Samphan met with Son Sann in Bangkok in late March and offered his party US$6 million if it would withdraw from the campaign, but the offer was rejected.
FUNCINPEC's number two leader, Sam Rainsy, favours withdrawing, but leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Sihanouk's son, said the party will participate.
Behind this disagreement and indecision is a changing political situation. The UNTAC-controlled election was conceived by the US and China as a way of replacing the present State of Cambodia (SoC) government with a regime headed by FUNCINPEC, perhaps in coalition with the KPNLF.
Early this year, after months of systematic hamstringing of the government by UNTAC, it appeared that the project was on course and that FUNCINPEC would be the strongest party coming out of the elections. Now, opinion is swinging to the idea that SoC will gain the most — in large part because ordinary Cambodians are coming to the realisation that SoC is the only force with a chance of blocking the KR.
On April 4, UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi told leaders of the four groups that signed the Paris agreement that the elections would go ahead even though the conditions were "not perfect".
"UNTAC believes the vast majority of the Cambodian people want an election", he said. "UNTAC believes that only we can give them an election that the rest of the world will accept as reasonably free and fair. UNTAC believes that those who seek to disrupt an election are the enemies of the people of Cambodia, and that we must resist their attempts."