Still the Khmer Rouge

November 13, 1992

The year-old Cambodia settlement plan is failing because one of the belligerents -- the Khmer Rouge guerrilla army -- never meant it to succeed. After other forces agreed to partial demobilization in cantonments set up by 15,000 United Nations troops, the Khmer Rouge reneged. Its excuse was that all ethnic Vietnamese in the country, where many immigrated for decades, are disguised soldiers who have not been withdrawn by Hanoi.

The U.N. would be a better judge. The Khmer Rouge is shooting its fellow Cambodians because it still craves a monopoly of power, still means to purify its people just as it slaughtered a million in the late 1970s and still believes in rule by terror.

The 18 nations that agreed to the settlement with Cambodia's former government and three opposition groups should go ahead with it, without the Khmer Rouge. That means a United Nations interim administration and elections for a constitutional convention next year. It also implies delaying further demobilization.

The former government of Hun Sen, still the largest force, and the two non-Communist opposition groups must be prepared to fight for the legitimacy of a regime to which they agreed. The wily and durable Prince Norodom Sihanouk still helps as a figurehead, though he is no forceful leader.

The need is to isolate the Khmer Rouge, which survived defeat in 1979 through aid from cynical friends, China and Thailand. Diplomacy is needed to insure that China abides by the 1991 settlement and does not help its former clients. Also to insure that corrupt Thai generals do not help the murderous Cambodian Communists in return for help in smuggling and drug operations. With those two sources of supply cut off, the Khmer Rouge's hunger for arms would not be assuaged.

The U.S., as one of the 18 signatory nations, has a crucial role in isolating the Khmer Rouge. It must also make clear that any breakdown in the settlement is the fault of the Khmer Rouge, not Vietnam. That is because the U.S. had made information on Americans missing in action and the success of the Cambodian settlement prerequisites for normalizing relations with Hanoi, which kept the agreement and pulled its forces out of Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge must not be given what amounts to a veto over relations between Vietnam and the U.S. The infamous Pol Pot's gang is making enough trouble already.

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