Uneasy Cambodia wraps up campaign Violence feared from Khmer Rouge

May 20, 1993|By Boston Globe

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The campaign to brin democracy to Cambodia two decades after it degenerated into genocide and Communist rule ended yesterday with political rallies, parades and occasional gunfire.

On Sunday, about 4.7 million Cambodian voters will begin six days of balloting to choose leaders from among 20 new political parties. The multiparty elections are the first since 1972 and are being held under the eyes of a huge U.N. task force.

But there is widespread fear that the nation's fragile new political system -- established at a cost of billions of dollars and involving 22,000 U.N. personnel and 50,000 Cambodians -- might not survive what is supposed to be a cooling-off period between now and Sunday.

In the countryside, the communist Khmer Rouge were on the move. Bands numbering from 100 to 400 troops were said to be moving from their highland and forest strongholds into positions from which they could disrupt polling in major population centers.

Though it signed a four-faction peace agreement in 1991, the Khmer Rouge have since opted out of the peace process. They have vowed to thwart the elections with violence, saying the vote will serve only to legitimize their bitter enemy, the Phnom Penh government.

The government was installed by Vietnamese troops who invaded Cambodia in December 1978 to end the Khmer Rouge's 3 1/2 years of fanatical rule, which cost more than a million lives.

Even Yasushi Akashi, the resolutely optimistic Japanese who heads the U.N. peace mission, acknowledged that the security situation was worsening daily.

Mr. Akashi warned yesterday of "attacks that don't make military sense but are designed to sow panic, especially in urban areas," before voting begins.

U.N. outreach programs to Cambodian voters were being curtailed, Mr. Akashi said, more U.N. personnel were carrying weapons, and flak jackets and helmets were being issued to poll workers.

Cambodians were hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Many people with visas or residency papers in other countries were leaving. Those who remained were hoarding rice and other staples.

City and countryside alike were eerily quiet for the final day of a national campaign -- except in northwestern Siem Reap province, where government troops and the Khmer Rouge were reportedly engaged in intense fighting.

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