Cambodia: Pol Pot's Death Dominates the News

1998

Milton Osborne

Final confirmation of the death of Pol Pot, the leader of the notorious Khmer Rouge regime during nearly four years of murderous tyranny between 1975 and 1979, dominated reporting from Cambodia in the closing weeks of April. News that he had died overshadowed, temporarily at least, the political manoeuvring that led to King Sihanouk's granting of a pardon to his son Prince Ranarridh. This pardon, granted following Ranarridh's conviction in a show trial engineered by Prime Minister Hun Sen, was part of a Japanese-brokered arrangement designed to open the way for the Prince and his FUNCINPEC party to participate in elections in July. But neither the death nor the pardon has done much to reassure the international community that Cambodia's troubles are at an end. Nor is it clear that Ranarridh, who has so far returned only for two brief visits following his pardon, is prepared to make a real effort to lead an active campaign for the projected elections. Whatever his personal limitations - and these are real - he is undoubtedly correct in arguing that he and his supporters face continuing intimidation from Hun Sen's regime. Until the elections, due on 26 July, and possibly afterwards, Cambodia's attractions for foreign investors will remain limited and, as a result, the government will be locked into continuing mendicant status. While ASEAN hopes that the election will act as a circuit breaker and will lead to Cambodia's becoming a member of the regional organisation, there remain many grounds for pessimism. And should the election campaign be marked by clear evidence of human rights violations, with violence directed against FUNCINPEC candidates, it is highly possible that the United States will be unready to resume the important aid programs that it cut back following the events of July 1997.

WATCHPOINT: In the lead-up to the elections, Ranarridh's actions and Hun Sen's reactions will be key factors.

 

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