Large voter turnout in Cambodia prompts Sihanouk to exclude Communists

May 27, 1993|By New York Times News Service

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA CX. CORRECTION — A headline about the Cambodian elections in The Sun yesterday referred to the Khmer Rouge as Communists. Though the Khmer Rouge was Marxist through the mid-1980s, the political party of which it is a part now formally espouses "democratic socialism" rather than Marxism-Leninism.

The Sun regrets the error.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia's head of state, announced yesterday that he has abandoned plans to set up a coalition government that included the Khmer Rouge. He said internationally supervised elections this week proved that the Maoist rebels had no place in Cambodia's future.

Only weeks after suggesting that the Khmer Rouge should be incorporated into a new postwar government, the prince told a group of visiting European lawmakers that the vast and enthusiastic voter turnout amounted to a final public repudiation of the guerrilla group. The Khmer Rouge boycotted the elections and had threatened to disrupt them with violence, though little has occurred.

One of the visiting lawmakers, Claude Cheysson, a former French foreign minister, said the prince had told the group that the elections were a "historical defeat of the Khmer Rouge -- they won't recover."

In a separate statement issued by the royal palace, the prince said, "I definitively renounce my earlier proposition for the formation of a government of national reconciliation that included the participation of the Khmer Rouge."

Despite his fierce denunciation, the 70-year-old prince has proved over the years to be a man prone to changing his mind, especially regarding the Khmer Rouge. Over the last three decades, he has sometimes been the ally, and sometimes the enemy, of the Khmer Rouge, who were responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians when they controlled the country for 3 1/2 years in the 1970s.

Even yesterday, the prince did not rule out including the Khmer ** Rouge in a future government, but he said that the decision would have to be made by whatever government is established after this week's elections, in which more than 85 percent of Cambodia's 4.7 million registered voters already have cast ballots.

"I will not intervene in the question of the composition of the Cambodian government," he said. Voting in the six-day election ends tomorrow, with results expected early next week.

Few U.N. officials and diplomats in Phnom Penh will hazard a guess on the results of the election, given that Cambodians have not had the chance to select a government in a multiparty election in more than two decades.

The prince, who was toppled in a 1970 coup and has spent most of the last two decades in exile, is expected to play a pivotal role in the formation of a government. He is the most popular figure in Cambodia, drawing adoring crowds everywhere he goes.

European legislators who attended the meeting with him yesterday said that he had told them that the election was "a remarkable success for Cambodia, a remarkable failure for the Khmer Rouge."

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