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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Boutros Ghali Says UNTAC Aimed Too High

Boutros Ghali Says UNTAC Aimed Too High

In his fourth and final progress report before the elections, United Nations Secretary

General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, suggested that the U.N. was overly optimistic in

its expectations to ensure free and fair elections and facilitate national reconciliation

in Cambodia.

"The election will clearly not be taking place in an environment as disarmed

and politically neutral as was envisaged in the Paris Agreements," Boutros-Ghali

said in the report.

Describing the last 13 months as a "sobering experience," Boutros-Ghali

said there were concerns whether the election should proceed and if it did, whether

it would represent the true voice of the Cambodian people.

"The United Nations faces a difficult decision. One alternative is to proceed

with the best election under imperfect conditions, in the knowledge that this is

what the majority of Cambodians desire and in the hope that the authentic voice of

Cambodia will be heard and obeyed."

"The other choice would be to declare that the basic acceptable conditions for

free and fair elections do not exist because of the climate of fear and hostility,

and because violence may worsen further after the elections, whatever the results."

Boutros-Ghali said he favored the former alternative because the Cambodian people

have overwhelmingly shown that they want an election, the twenty competing parties

have committed themselves to accepting the results and tens of thousands of people

are engaging peacefully in public meetings and political rallies.

However, he said, it would be prudent to assume that further violence is likely.

"The danger is that such attacks will have an impact on voter turnout."

UNTAC has undertaken a number of security measures in anticipation of disruption

attempts, he stated. But he pointed out that these measures may further reduce the

turnout while still not guaranteeing 100 percent security for voters and U.N. personnel

if "armed and violent individuals are determined to hinder the election."

But, taking all this into consideration, Boutros-Ghali said there was no doubt in

his mind that UNTAC must continue to carry out its mandate as well as possible with

the utmost consideration for the safety of its own staff and the well-being of Cambodians.

"It may well be, in the light of the sobering experiences of the last 13 months,

that the expectations originally entertained for ensuring that the election is free

and fair and for the success of national reconciliation were overly optimistic."

Many observers both in and outside of UNTAC have long stated, particularly since

the failure of phase two of the peace plan, that these expectations were near impossible.

They pointed to the fact that not only was the country still armed but it was plagued

by a burdensome 25 year history of conflict starting with minor revolts, then a major

revolution combined with B-52 carpet bombing, followed by a perverse experiment in

social organization that culminated in auto-genocide and then, from the ashes of

that holocaust, a lengthy, bitter, low intensity civil war which is still simmering.

Boutros-Ghali also alludes to this historic backdrop when he stated that expectations

were perhaps too high.

"Given the country's recent tragic history, it would probably be neither realistic

nor fair to hold it to prevailing standards in stable democratic countries. Conditions

in Cambodia have never been perfect and may not be so for a long time, any more than

they are in many other countries. That is no reason to hold back an election which,

after all, is not the end of the process of Cambodia's renewal but the beginning."

To call a halt to the elections, he said, would mean ceding to unacceptable threats

and giving the right of veto over the peace process to "an armed group"

that has rejected its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

He accused all the signatories of the peace accords of being less than consistent

in cooperating with UNTAC and in implementing the agreements.

"I think that it is worth restating that the primary responsibility for implementing

the agreements rests squarely on the Cambodian parties themselves. Cambodian parties

cannot expect the international community to succeed where they themselves failed."

He warned the State of Cambodia to desist from using state resources for party gain

and called on SOC to prevent or punish those responsible for politically motivated

violence in its zone.

But his strongest words were reserved for the Khmer Rouge. "The Party of Democratic

Kampuchea risks international and internal isolation if it is seen to have attempted

to disrupt the Cambodian elections. That party must also be held responsible for

the attacks it has carried out against Cambodians, including those of Vietnamese

ancestry, and against UNTAC personnel, as well as any future attacks it may carry


The secretary general does not make it clear what holding the Khmer Rouge responsible

for attacks actually means.

During his recent visit to Phnom Penh, the Post asked Boutros-Ghali how he viewed

Prime Minister Hun Sen's accusation that Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan was responsible

for ordering the various attacks and should therefore brought to trial and ejected

from the SNC.

"Before the elections you will have this kind of dispute and accusation, and

this is, if you like, one of the negative aspects of democracy," Boutros-Ghali


Some observers felt that Boutros-Ghali himself was undermining the process with such

an answer.

"By issuing such a declaration, Mr. Boutros-Ghali has lost all credibility as

the defender of the ideals of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration

of the Human Rights and all the texts on which the civilized world bases the future

of mankind," Cambodian scholar Raoul Jennar said, adding it was a "devastatingly

cynical and irresponsible answer."

The secretary general ended his fourth progress report by reiterating that the responsibility

for Cambodia's future rests on the shoulders of the Cambodian people and parties.

"The situation in Cambodia remains uncertain and the way ahead for the peace

process and for UNTAC will not be smooth. Nevertheless, UNTAC will continue to do

its utmost to assist the Cambodian people in carrying out their obligations under

the Paris Agreements and achieving a future of peace, stability and self-determination,"

Boutros-Ghali stated.



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