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Anguished King in new plea for talks

ten years ago.jpg
ten years ago.jpg

H IS Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk reacted emotionally after his proposal for

"Round Table" peace talks between the Khmer Rouge, the Royal Government

collapsed.

The King had called for the two warring sides to meet in Phnom

Penh between May 2-7 but the nominal Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan sent a

letter on May 1 saying the faction did not consider the capital a safe or

neutral venue.

Despite the setback, His Majesty said on May 2 that the

talks should now be held in Pyongyang, Paris or Jakarta to allay the Khmer

Rouge's security concerns.

He also spoke of his anguish at the

continuing bloodshed, with some observers saying the current fighting was the

most intense since 1989 when Vietnamese troops withdrew.

"It's very sad,

very unfortunate to have war, continual war," Sihanouk said in emotional remarks

to a small group of Cambodian journalists. "Why? Our people, all our people,

they are victims of war and our country is a civil-war victim.

"It's

unreasonable to destroy our own national wealth. We must put an end to his war

but no one listens to me.

"The roundtable cannot take place for the time

being because there is a very serious difference between Phnom Penh and the

Khmer Rouge, he said.

The charge that the KR delegation would be in

danger in Phnom Penh was denied by the government, which said it could

"guarantee 100 percent" the guerrillas' safety.

But Co-Premiers Prince

Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen and National Assembly Chairman Chea Sim reportedly

insist it should be held in Cambodia, saying the so-called security reason was

an excuse to avoid talks.

"The Khmer Rouge insist on meeting outside

Cambodia because they do not recognize the Royal Government or the new Kingdom

of Cambodia," one Funcinpec MP says of his party's position. The government has

pointed out before that there is no security threat to the Khmer Rouge's Phnom

Penh office.

None of the parties are willing to speculate about the

future of the talks at this stage, except to say that a negotiated settlement

will definitely be found. Discussions between the King and the co-premiers have

so far remained deadlocked.

Members of all political parties feel that

the government cannot appear to agree easily to a change in venue without

further loss of face.

"The government's political bargaining power is

already weak, especially after the defeat at Pailin," says one BLDP MP. "At the

same time, they have to agree to talks, because they cannot defeat the Khmer

Rouge militarily."

The suspension of the talks raised the prospect that

the government will introduce a bill outlawing the KR in the National Assembly

when it reconvenes.

"The law will not be introduced in the near future,

because the effort now will be on negotiations," says a Funcinpec source. "The

government could use it only if everything fails."

Sources familiar with

the bill, drafted by the CPP, say it is a short statement which simply says that

the Khmer Rouge will be outlawed for various crimes such as not participating in

the elections, not recognizing the Royal Government, violating the constitution

and for human rights violations.

But there is also some speculation that

even if the bill is introduced, it may not have a smooth passage through the

assembly. There is considerable opposition from several BLDP and Funcinpec MPs,

who feel that such a law will cut off all possibility of dialogue and force the

government to depend on military victory, which, with the KR on the offensive,

now looks even further away than ever.

"There can be no end to this

problem without talks," says one BLDP legislator. "If we are to support this

bill, we have to be convinced that it will improve the situation."

King

Sihanouk, showing signs of exasperation with the failure of the two sides to

begin talks , said if he was given more power he would propose a "two-point"

plan for the resumption of talks.

"One, unconditional ceasefire now, and,

two, negotiations, possibly in Paris. Why not?" he said.

The King said

French Minister for higher Education Francois Fillion, on a recent visit, had

assured him that "France is willing to help me 100 percent in my endeavors to

get peace for the Cambodian people."

 

- Additional reporting by Reuters

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