Progress in Cambodia talks

September 4, 1991

By Helen Jarvis

"The war is over, over", Prince Sihanouk told reporters. "Yes, it's over", said Prime Minister Hun Sen. These words were featured in all the coverage of the latest meeting of Cambodia's Supreme National Council, held in Pattaya, Thailand August 26-29.

The same words were uttered two months ago at the July SNC meeting in Pattaya, but in the intervening period the Khmer Rouge has continued its campaign of harassment and intimidation, including a rocket attack on a passenger train, laying of anti-personnel mines and assassination of individuals, such as health workers and teachers, regarded as working with the government.

According to Sihanouk, 90 or 95% of disputed questions have been resolved, with a future electoral system being the main outstanding matter. The "framework for a comprehensive political settlement", signed last September, provided for the creation of UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) to take over some government functions in the period leading up to elections.

There has been considerable disagreement on the extent to which UNTAC would take over from and actually dismantle the present government. The State of Cambodia has insisted on retention of its governmental structure with some UN supervisory or monitoring power, while the Khmer Rouge, and the P5 (five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council) interpreted the framework to mean gutting the government.

Certainly the latest discussions got beyond the ceremonial level of the July talks (adoption of flag, anthem and Sihanouk as de facto chairman) to formal agreement on much more concrete and crucial matters, including:

  • demobilisation of the various armed forces. The Khmer Rouge went into the talks demanding almost total demobilisation, with only two forces of 6000 troops each. The State of Cambodia has long held the position that it cannot risk the return of the Khmer Rouge to power and must retain its armed forces intact even if disarmed until elections are held. It has also pointed out that identification and demobilisation of its regular forces is relatively easy, while it is not so clear how the unofficial and guerilla forces of the opposition might be rendered harmless.

Hun Sen countered with an offer of a 40% demobilisation. In the end, agreement was reached on a 70% cut, with the remaining 30% to

be grouped into cantonments and to surrender their arms to UN forces. A safeguard was agreed to, giving the commanders the right to unlock the arms stores and rearm their forces if the peace is broken. However, there was disagreement as to whether police should be considered a military force and included in the demobilisation.

  • the issue of genocide. The State of Cambodia appears to have dropped its insistence on any agreement specifically mentioning the issue of the genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. The P5 interpretation would guarantee all Cambodians full electoral rights, while the State of Cambodia called for formal exclusion of the top levels of the Khmer Rouge from the electoral process. Agreement appears to have been reached that while everyone has the right to stand for election, the three most notorious individuals (Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and Mok) would not stand.

Meanwhile, Phnom Penh was bracing for expected floods as the swollen Mekong River surged towards the capital. Heavy rains in the mountains to the north and west of Cambodia and in Laos have already led to devastating floods in four provinces. These floods, on a scale unprecedented in Cambodia's history, have caused widespread deaths and losses of livestock and destroyed the rice crop in some areas.

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