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Comment: What is the way forward now?

Chunn Vireak examines the options for Cambodia's future.

The decision by Cambodian National Assembly to out law the Khmer Rouge has pushed Cambodia into a situation in which each side has one chance left - that is to fight for a complete peace - peace without war. This is probably a last chance but obviously it is a dangerous one for the very peace and for a survival of the nation that everyone is prepared to fight for. Does Cambodia finally get a real peace? The answer is yes if the Khmer Rouge can be eliminated. The next question one may ask is that can the Khmer Rouge be eliminated as intended. This is a hard question and probably no one could provide a firm answer yet. Conversely most observers doubt that the Khmer Rouge can be eliminated at all.

After the outlawing of the Khmer Rouge, which means a military solution against the Khmer Rouge, was finally chosen, the situation in the government camp is a bit confusing. One may see the seemingly more close cooperation between Funcinpec and the CPP is in the interest of both parties, with a view to receive outside support badly needed in their common effort to deal with the Khmer Rouge.

For the case of Funcinpec, the tension stems from the very policy of outlawing the Khmer Rouge. Some of Funcinpec's leaders are convinced that to outlaw the Khmer Rouge means endless civil war in Cambodia. In the case of CPP, though getting the Khmer Rouge outlawed has been a breakthrough in its long-term strategy, at least in the mind of its leaders. But most of CPP senior officials perceive that a more united stand between Funcinpec and CPP in the government and in the National Assembly means changes to streamline the government and in administration are bound to be made. This may eventually affect their position in one way or the other. The recent failed coup attempt, which has been considered by most observers as a show or game, probably stemmed from a real power struggle in the CPP. This can be considered as a warning by conservatives in the CPP to definitely block any decisive move by government leaders at their expense.

While the situation in the government camp is confusing, the Khmer Rouge is more active in carrying out its strategy against the government. Recently the government seems to change its tactics from launching more military offensives against the Khmer Rouge to focusing on the reorganization its military structure, in the hope of receiving military aid from outside. The Khmer Rouge has change tactic to disrupt this move. The Khmer Rouge has successfully plotted to kidnap three foreigners, two of them are the very nationals of countries that plan to provide military aid to the Royal Government. By this move, the Khmer Rouge may not be completely successful to make the two countries reverse their decision. But it has sent a clear signal to any country that in the future may consider to provide aid to the Royal Government. Their own nationals, whether they are coming as tourists or as officials to come to take control of military aid in Cambodia must be in danger. By limiting the access to control aid, the Khmer Rouge can only hope that potential donor countries will be cautious in the limit of aid to be given to the Royal Government given the fact that they will not then be in a position to take effective control on the use of their aid.

Khmer Rouge strategy

One should remember that the period following last May's elections until recently the Khmer Rouge used tactic of pitting Funcinpec against the CPP in their attempt to create conflict and confusion in the government camp. Clearly by using this tactic, the Khmer Rouge gain a lot of advantage at the expense of the Royal Government. At home the Khmer Rouge wants the people to see that the composition of this government is not reasonable and thus it does not work. Abroad the Khmer Rouge has tried to let world opinion see that the present government is not strong and reasonable enough to represent Cambodia internationally. Now while the Khmer Rouge have no chance to get into the center of power through negotiations, they continue to carry out their long-term strategy.

Which is to surround the cities by gradually extending their power base from the countryside. Really, the Khmer Rouge can never convince the people that they are not violent as the people can never themselves believe so. But under the current circumstance the Khmer Rouge still have enough to say to convince the people to cooperate with them against the Royal Government. For it is an essential element in communist strategy to create, by whatever means necessary, domestic dissention. Now the Khmer Rouge is carrying out phase one of its two-phase strategy aimed at demolishing popular confidence in the Royal Government in order to destroy ties between the people and government by investing only minimal amounts of manpower and equipment. By carrying out such operations, the Khmer Rouge can afford to spend unlimited time on the very important phase one of its strategy. On phase two the Khmer Rouge would eventually commit all their resources to focus on decisive attacks in some areas which they think time is proper to be taken from the hand of the government. However it remains very much in doubt whether the Khmer Rouge can successfully pass the phase one at all given the fact that the political environment they find themselves now is totally different from the one they did during the war against Lon Nol regime. And it is even harder to believe that the Khmer Rouge can carry out phase two of its strategy i.e. to attempt to coordinate their activities on country-wide basis to make some decisive attacks.

CPP strategy

CPP strategy, as one has witnessed so far, has been to employ all means, under any circumstances to keep its power structure as long and power full as they can. Now it successfully has got full cooperation from Funcinpec to keep the Khmer Rouge out while it continues to keep its power structure in tact. However the big challenge the CPP is facing in the near future is to resist the changes at the expense of its power structure.

Funcinpec strategy

Funcinpec strategy, under leadership of Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh, First Prime Minister, is but a decisive one in terms of peace and rule of law.

In the mind of Funcinpec's leadership it is high time for Funcinpec to play the nation card by betting all it has in the hope to gain everything for everybody with the credit going to Funcinpec, given the intransigence of the Khmer Rouge and the poor performance of the government. By jumping along with CPP on outlawing the Khmer Rouge, Prince Norodom Ranariddh finally decided to divide a clear line of battle and thus is prepared to set a clear-cut policy to improve the performance in the government camp. Funcinpec's tactic is clear. It is to use the pretext of dealing with Khmer Rouge challenge to reform in favor of the rule of law. The success at this stage may be considered the first and important step in Funcinpec's long-term strategy toward establishing a real peace. However a lot of things remain to be done and most are hard and take probably unlimited time to be done before the rule of law can be established in Cambodia.

People's hope

After a long-wait, peace was expected to materialize through the implementation of the Paris Agreements. But it has already drifted far from the people's faces. The best the people can hope for is changes in favor of better conditions of their lives . Now the people probably have no idea how peace can be achieved or simply just forget about the peace, although they continue to believe that peace is only a guarantee for their own future and their nation's. No one knows how long the fighting will last, how much suffering there will be and what future awaits the Khmer people and Khmer nation. Obviously one may see that the Khmer Rouge can never draw the whole Cambodia at present back to their time in power. But it is hard to claim that the Khmer Rouge can be eliminated as easily and quickly as to peel a banana. Now it depends much on government leadership to prepare the conditions for peace. First it has to eliminate all pretexts used by the Khmer Rouge to continue to fight. to make change in favor of the rule of law.

To achieve all this needs decisive efforts and personal sacrifices. It is the only sure way that works for peace. And when every condition for peace already exists, the remaining Khmer Rouge who no longer have a real reason to fight should be approached to come to join the mainstream of society. This is not to give power to the Khmer Rouge but to give peace a chance. So why not?

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