Cambodia on the Mend

October 03, 1993

The United Nations has declared victory in Cambodia and the last of its 22,000 troops will be out in November. The $2.6 billion peace-keeping operation, the costliest ever, looks well spent. Most of the refugees in Thailand have come home. A fair election was held. The new regime is up and running. President Clinton recognized it.

King Norodom Sihanouk, first crowned in 1941, abdicated in 1955, prime minister until overthrown in 1970, is king again. This time, he is supposedly a constitutional figurehead of limited powers. His son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, head of the party that did best in the election, is first president. Former Communist and Vietnamese-supported prime minister Hun Sen is second president, in charge of the security forces. That sounds a little too like Nicaragua for comfort.

The Khmer Rouge, which ruled for two years and killed a million compatriots in the 1970s, is holding onto its weapons and controlling one-tenth of the countryside. It boycotted the election but claims to support the monarchy. Hun Sen is gearing up to fight them again. The king is heading off to China for medical treatment, but is to hold peace talks with the Khmer Rouge later this month.

After a generation of war and social breakdown, Cambodia has hope. The government writ runs in up to 90 percent of the country. There is a fair chance of the Khmer Rouge turning in their arms. If not, war will go on in parts of the country, with popular support flooding to the government.

Complex diplomacy that led to the 1991 settlement is holding up. The new regime deserves substantial help from international lending agencies. But it is up to the Khmer people and the two major factions in the government, still highly suspicious of each other, to make this work. They owe the long-suffering people a good-faith effort.

And if that should happen, the U.N. peace process will have had its most impressive victory.

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