Save the Khmer Rouge?

December 05, 1991

If the United Nations does not want the murderous Khmer Rouge to re-ignite the Cambodia civil war, U.N. troops in large numbers will guard the hated Khmer Rouge representatives in Phnom Penh from the understandable wrath of the surviving Khmer people.

Hun Sen, the one-time Khmer Rouge defector who was installed as prime minister of Cambodia by Vietnamese invaders, is dedicated to keeping the fanatic faction that governed and murdered from 1975 through 1978 out of power. To that end he is sworn to protect their persons and insure their role in the transition.

Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who joined with the Khmer Rouge to force the Vietnamese out of Cambodia, now joins with the former Vietnamese puppets to keep the Khmer Rouge out. Of his many flip-flops over the decades, this is the most statesmanlike. And it means guaranteeing the safety of the Khmer Rouge senior leader, Khieu Samphan, who has agreed to return.

Given the million or so Cambodians who died during the last Khmer Rouge takeover and rule in the 1970s, it is not surprising that survivors wrecked a villa and tried to lynch Khieu Samphan when he tried to take up duties on the Supreme National Council of the transition, as called for by the Paris peace conference in October.

The Khmer Rouge is demanding that 800 U.N. soldiers begin peacekeeping in the capital when Khieu Samphan returns, and that one of its functionaries, who was missing in the melee, be accounted for. If that violence is what Khieu Samphan inspires, imagine the effect if his "Brother No. 1," the Khmer Rouge chief Pol Pot, returns. The ten bodyguards for each of the 12 members of the Supreme National Council, agreed to at the peace conference, would hardly suffice.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian actor-physician Haing Ngor and photographer Dith Pran, star and character portrayed in the movie "The Killing Fields," were denied permission to hold a press conference in Phnom Penh to demand genocide trials for Khmer Rouge leaders. The government said it would hurt the peace process. And while the Khmer Rouge delegates felt unsafe in Cambodia's capital, the Supreme National Council met in Thailand instead.

This is the bizarre world of the Cambodian peace agreement. It is a topsy-turvy, sickly comic, screamingly unfunny, deeply ironic, unimaginable business. And it seems to be working.

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