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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Comment: Realpolitik vs morality and justice in Cambodia

Comment: Realpolitik vs morality and justice in Cambodia

A n old adage says it is easy to start a war but it is very difficult to end one

and the maxim applies well to the Cambodian conflict. The Paris Peace Agreements

and the multi-billion dollar United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia

to implement them failed to put an end to the conflict. The Khmer Rouge refused

to honor pledges they made in Paris, boycotted the UNTAC-organized elections,

and returned to the jungle to continue the war.

Cambodians were cheated

of an opportunity to condemn the KR via the ballot box and have instead had to

endure still more war.

There are two main schools of thought on how to

deal with the KR. One advocates the elimination of the KR as a military and

political force and it argues that this could be achieved through economic and

social development, especially in rural areas as well as through the use of

military force.

The other school of thought favors accommodating the KR,

giving them a role in government in exchange for giving up the areas they

control and is prepared to see the constitution amended as part of the


The KR issue could, in my opinion be resolved quickly. There

remain, however, questions over the implementation of both approaches. Are the

Royal Government and its army strong enough, and do they have the resources to

raise the standard of living in the rural areas, neutralize the influence of the

KR, push them back, and finally defeat them? One would like to be optimistic,

but, experience would indicate that the offensive would likely to be a

protracted affair which could weaken the Royal Government and its army when it

is still acutely short of resources and is over-burdened by the task of

rehabilitation and reconstruction. The latest reports from the frontline, though

very patchy, suggest that there is a war of attrition going on, with neither

side having a decisive advantage.

Cambodians themselves are sick and

tired of war. The success of the Royal Government campaign to get the KR to join

them seems to have peaked.

According to the accommodation school of

thought, the KR leadership would be content and would readily cooperate with the

rest of the nation if they were given a place in the Royal Government. They

would surrender Pailin, Preah Vihear and the rest of the areas they currently

control. The accommodationists argue it would be better to have them in town

than keeping them in the jungle and Cambodia would finally be fully at


Unfortunately, reality might not be so straightforward. How will

the nation be able to accept the bitter pill of having the genocidal KR playing

a role in governing the country? Certainly, on the face of it, it would run

counter to the principles of not only democracy but also to morality and

justice. Would Cambodian society have peace and happiness without morality and

justice? How would the Cambodian nation fare in the international community if

it gave a prominent position to the killers? Would it not be ostracized around

the world? That accommodation would not guarantee peace and happiness but would

be a stain on the nation's history.

Is there a more acceptable and

effective solution to deal with the KR.? The answer, I believe, is a big yes and

it would be based on morality and justice. The KR can be dissolved in an

honorable way. First, the National Assembly would need to pass laws declaring

the KR as outlaws and that the leadership should be tried for their crimes

against humanity.

Second, a well-prepared program of rehabilitation and

re-integration of the KR rank and file into the community would be set


Third, His Majesty the King who still commands great respect from the

KR and remains the key to their survival would need to play a leading role in

this program. He would need to make repeated appeals to his "children" and

"grand children" who are KR, urging them to lay down their arms, to come out of

the jungle and join him to build national unity and the Cambodian nation. His

Majesty would have to stress that these "children" of his have won the cause

they were fighting for, namely that Vietnamese forces have now apparently left

the country.

His Majesty could tell the KR rank and file they could be

considered "heroes" and have a big role to play in the reconstruction of the

country. They should be persuaded to abandon their leaders, who are no good for

them or the nation. His Majesty would need to provide them with guarantees as to

their safety and to assure them they could have land, jobs, education if they

returned to the fold. If His Majesty were personally in charge of the program,

his assurances would be all the more convincing.

Many estimates put the

number of KR fighters at 10,000. If it cost $10,000 a head to win over the KR

the whole program would cost only $100 million. This would be a cheap price to

pay for the honorable peace so dearly sought by the Cambodian nation. After all

think of the costs in terms of human suffering, money and the continued

destruction of the country that protracted warfare would entail. Perhaps even

more importantly, continued warfare is a danger to freedom, democracy and human

rights, the priceless gains the Cambodian people have achieved.

The Nobel

Peace Prize has yet to be awarded to any individual or organization in

recognition of the efforts to bring peace to Cambodia. The Nobel Committee was

awarded to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Vietnamese

Foreign Minister Le Duc Tho for signing the Paris peace accords although these

agreements failed to bring peace to Vietnam. Surely the Nobel committee could

not overlook Cambodia and its king if complete peace was won at last.



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