As the U.N. pulls its mighty muscle from Cambodia the world at large may be left
with the erroneous impression that UNTAC has handed over a sparkling new democracy,
complete with a King and a seeming end to the internal clashes and turmoil that have
vexed Cambodia for decades.
The press will move on, as it has already; swooping in to greedily capture the glitter
and romance of other U.N. endeavors. Is Cambodia then to be abandoned for a more
In May, thousands of journalists invaded Cambodia. Now editors discourage their reporters.
The end of the press coverage of the mission here does not imply that no news is
good news. It may actually imply the opposite.
Cambodia now faces a rocky future. It must meet the challenge of re-building its
infrastructure. It must try to whip the corruption that pervades all echelons of
the government system. And it must attempt to vanquish the Khmer Rouge forces, who
rule, intransigent, from their jungle fortresses.
As the $2.4 billion U.N. carpet rolls itself up, a certain power vacuum is being
created. Up-country, anarchy appears to be creeping out of its hole again; factional
activities are now on the rise, as is banditry. Soldiers, angry at their paltry government
salaries, storm marketplaces and loot stalls.
The approach of the dry season brings more embroiled and bloody fighting as the Khmer
Rouge and the Royal Cambodian government clash again in their bitter power struggle.
Bridges have been blown up and schools shelled. An old terror threatens the countryside.
In order to contend with the guerrillas, the government has chosen a number of strategies.
It must somehow force the seemingly invincible KR out of the jungles. One strategy,
the "dangling carrot" approach, involves flooding their territory with
flyers, guaranteeing safe passage if soldiers surrender.
The old reception center in Banteay Meanchey should have closed its doors tightly
months ago when the last returnee from the border camps was repatriated. However,
it is now host to 2,000 internally displaced persons. Most fled their homes fearing
forced conscription from the KR.
Cambodia's future now rests in the hands of the government - a new and fragile system
the international community must not abandon, but carefully monitor.
The world has all too often turned a blind-eye to the Tibets, the Burmas and the
Guatemalas: countries which, as a result of international complacency, suffer under
oppressive political systems.
Melissa Ward works for UNDP/ILO in Sisophon