229 [Failure in Cambodia, Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong, nº156, 3, 21 janvier 1993, p.28 (résumé réécrit traduit de 227)].
Those who have been criticising the Paris peace accords on Cambodia can today take little consolation in having been proved correct. The. peace settlement was ill-conceived from the. outset and the UN's implementation of it has been slow and ineffective. The weakness of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac) became obvious as long. ago as June 1992 when the Khmer Rouge. faction refused to participate in Phase Two of the plan. This requires the different factions to confine their troops to cantonments and disarm them.
Essentially, what the communist Khmer Rouge is calling for is a return to the pre-accord discussions between the four Cambodian factions. It is also, in effect, demanding the "ethnic cleansing" of Cambodia, a call clearly aimed at the Vietnamese minority.
What is alarming is the support the Khmer Rouge has been receiving from other nationalist groups on the latter issue. Although Untac has rightly condemned this as unacceptable, it has had to swallow other humiliations, such as the Khmer Rouge's refusal to allow the UN into certain areas that the faction controls.
The same moral laxness that accommodated the Khmer Rouge in the peace plan has been apparent in the six months of useless negotiations with the faction following the UN entry into Cambodia. One year after the UN intervention, these are the results:
A bankrupt economy. All-out liberalisation, along with the inflation generated by 20,000 highly paid UN personnel, the return of 300,000 refugees without income, the looting of natural resources by Thai commercial networks and related economic distortions have exacted a heavy toll on an already fragile economy.
Legitimacy for the Khmer Rouge. The faction, notorious for killing hundreds of thousands of Cambodians during its late-1970s tenure of power, has gained new respectability by signing the Paris accords. Then, by ignoring the provisions of the accords, the Khmer Rouge has expanded the territory, people, and resources it controls.
More income for the Khmer Rouge. By cutting deals with Thai military officers .who provided access to traders, the Khmer Rouge streamlined gem-mining and logging operations along the border. The huge profits generated in this way--at least until Bangkok acted to end the border trade--are now one of faction leader Pol Pot's keys to survival. Yet those who complain about Vietnam's heavy hand in Cambodia have been strangely silent about the Thais gaining economic control over large areas of Cambodia.
Crippling of the Phnom Penh government. Today, that government is simply not capable of meeting its responsibilities. This is a direct result of pressure from foreign nations that are worried about the fact that the Hun Sen government represents one of the contesting factions. The same foreign governments seem less concerned about the anarchy and the relative strengthening of the Khmer Rouge that have stemmed from the Phnom Penh's weakness.
To be sure, not all the results of the peace process have been negative. The return of thousands of Cambodian refugees and the imminent end to the inhuman border camps in which many Cambodians had been forced to live are welcome developments.
But the main UN goal of restoring peace and order is slipping farther out of sight. There is little chance that the peace process can be successfully implemented in the present circumstances. The UN therefore needs to rethink its role in Cambodia, bearing in mind the following:
First, it is impossible to include the Khmer Rouge in an overall settlement. It is also impossible to dissolve the military character of the faction, which remains the basis of its existence. Nevertheless, the UN-sponsored elections should still be held in May. The democratic character of the elections is not nearly as important as having a government in Phnom Penh that enjoys international recognition and is able to undertake the tasks expected of any responsible administration.
The international community must also acknowledge that Cambodians, like many other peoples, have xenophobic feelings. In Cambodia's case, the massive influx of migrant workers from both Vietnam and Thailand increases the risk of violence, especially when the economy is in difficulties. Although the imminent end of the US embargo against Vietnam may encourage Vietnamese job seekers to stay at home, more should be done to head off possible racial violence.
After the election, whatever government emerges in Phnom Penh will have to deal with the problem of the Khmer Rouge. This is basically a military problem and it requires a military solution. The international community can best help here by giving every assistance to strengthening the new Cambodian government's military capacity. It should also try to isolate the Khmer Rouge by putting strong pressure on neighbouring Thailand.
In the run-up to the election, Untac should demonstrate its determination to make the peace accord work by using its military muscle to restrict the Khmer Rouge within its own zones. Common sense requires that UN troops fight back when attacked. If this is not done now, it will have to be done later. The Khmer communists were almost destroyed in Geneva in 1954 when they were not allocated the zone of control they had sought. Today they see in the peace accords a chance to secure such a zone, and the UN appears to be proving them right. This is unacceptable both to the Cambodian people and the international community.
The UN should stop procrastinating. It should instead help to strangle the monsters that the West and the Chinese helped nurse back to life after the Vietnamese had virtually destroyed it in 1979. For Cambodians, the first human right is the right to live.
Serge Thion is a French scholar who has published several studies on Cambodian political history.
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