By Helen Jarvis
PATTAYA, Thailand — This raunchy seaside resort south of Bangkok seems an unlikely location for a breakthrough in the drawn-out negotiations between the government of the State of Cambodia and the resistance forces. But on the hill away from the beach bars and sex shows stands the swanky Royal Cliff Hotel — the site of the latest talks.
Expectations were high, but conflicting headlines went down the wires at each step in the latest negotiations at the meeting of the Supreme National Council from June 24 to 26.
On the Sunday evening before the talks began, each of the four delegations arrived separately in police-escorted motorcades. The State of Cambodia delegation, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, was the last to arrive. They stayed in the hotel together with two of the three factions in the opposition "National Government of Cambodia" coalition — the KPNLF delegation, led by Son Sann, prime minister during the pro-US Lon Nol government and the Khmer Rouge delegation, led by Khieu Samphan.
Norodom Sihanouk led the FUNCINPEC delegation, the third coalition faction. Sihanouk did not join the others in the hotel, but stayed separately in the "royal wing", maintaining his pretensions to a superior status.
Earlier in the day, Sihanouk announced "The war is over in Cambodia — at least on paper" after preliminary talks in Bangkok. On arrival in Pattaya, Hun Sen said he agreed 99% with a new proposal "to operationalise" the stalled SNC chairman and vice-chairman by appointing all 12 SNC members as a "collegial presidency", while appointing Sihanouk as secretary-general to act as chief spokesperson and ceremonial leader. A new interim flag for Cambodia (UN pale blue with a white silhouette of Cambodia) and anthem (no words, and the tune written by Sihanouk's son Ranariddh) were proposed.
More importantly, the proposal provides for the SNC to be set up in headquarters (agreed on Tuesday by all parties to be in Phnom Penh) and to meet weekly as a Council of Ministers of a united Cambodia.
In such meetings the "Peace Plan" of the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council would be "examined and applied" but, pending elections, the two governments should continue to function as now. This addressed one of the principal concerns of Phnom Penh — that the State of Cambodia administration and armed forces not be dismantled prior to the formation of a new government following elections.
When the SNC formally convened on Monday morning, the first point of agreement was the announcement of an unlimited and unconditional cease-fire to take effect immediately, extending the interim cease-fire that had more or less held since May 1. An important new addition was an agreement by all parties to cease receiving foreign arms shipments — a point that Hun Sen has insisted is an integral part of a cease-fire.
At the conclusion of the talks on Wednesday, a joint press conference was called off because the Khmer Rouge refused to sit at the same table as Hun Sen. In a press statement, Sihanouk said that joint teams from both sides would monitor the cease-fire, and that he would request the United Nations to join in this inspection.
The cease-fire seems to be the only really tangible product of the talks, as the State of Cambodia continued to refuse to accept the Permanent Five's interpretation of the framework agreed to last September, while the Khmer Rouge held firm for its total acceptance. Further discussions are scheduled at the next SNC, to be held in Bangkok in August.
Although no final peace plan has been agreed to, it seems that the elements of the new Sihanouk proposal adopted at Pattaya do make advances to meet the expressed concerns of the State of Cambodia on very important points — the maintenance of the State of Cambodia administration and the cessation of arms supplies from other countries — and certainly represents an advance on the Permanent Five's January 1991 proposal.
Perhaps granting Sihanouk the ceremonial leadership position of secretary-general, and agreeing to Ranariddh's music, is a price worth paying if these more fundamental points are met.