Cambodia: Stabilising

1998

A.C. Kevin

The political situation has improved, following three recent developments:

  • A Japanese four-point peace plan was accepted by both Hun Sen and Ranariddh on 17 February and substantially implemented during March. Under the plan, Ranariddh was tried, found guilty of importing arms and plotting with the Khmer Rouge, and amnestied by King Sihanouk at Hun Sen's request. Ranariddh then returned to Cambodia on 30 March, initially for four days. He has since left and returned again. The King is also back in Cambodia.
  • All election machinery is now functioning. Most donors (though still not the U.S.) are supporting the election. Voter registration has commenced. There are reports of abuses but Hun Sen is appealing to officials to follow the law. He has promised to respect the result. (He expects his party to win and to govern in coalition).
  • Thirty-nine parties, mostly ephemeral, have registered for the elections. The National United Front (the 'real' opposition coalition, led by Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy) is threatening to withdraw because of election abuses. NUF probably wants to extract more concessions from Hun Sen. It's likely that it will take part, though the election will inevitably be flawed. Even if NUF withdraws, Hun Sen has probably earned enough international credibility from his moderation over the past three months so that the election will be accepted, although the U.S. would grumble.
Regionally, Cambodia-fatigue has set in. The Indonesia crisis has pushed Cambodia off the screen. Hun Sen visited Thailand and made his peace with Prime Minister Leekpai. There are signs that a pragmatic ASEAN leadership is keen to see Cambodia finally settled and in the club. On the military side, the Khmer Rouge has collapsed. The KR no longer commands population or territory. The Cambodian army (RCAF) occupied its last bases, after large-scale defections to RCAF and flights of KR refugees into Thailand. Pol Pot is dead. Ta Mok, the current KR leader, is hiding in remote mountains with an estimated 200 soldiers. He is still capable of organising guerilla attacks, but as a military force the KR seems spent. And the last Funcinpec military force (about 300 soldiers) is negotiating for its surrender and reintegration into RCAF, as soon as the issue of what to do with its military leaders is settled. Short of a major human rights atrocity, Hun Sen seems set for a fairly smooth election in July and transition to international acceptance thereafter. Then the real work will have to begin improving Cambodia's governance from its appallingly low present level.

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