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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt crisis as military option fails

Govt crisis as military option fails

O

ne year after the rapidly fading promise of the UN sponsored elections,

Cambodia's new government is reeling from a disastrous dry season military

campaign and plagued by internal weaknesses that, some say, threatens its

collapse.

The refusal of the government and the Khmer Rouge to agree to

King Norodom Sihanouk's proposal to sit down at the negotiating table has

prompted the King to retreat to Beijing while both sides appear poised to

escalate their efforts on the battlefield.

The government has officially

requested more foreign military support and vowed to drive the guerrillas back

to the jungle.

Sources close to the Khmer Rouge confirm that the

guerrillas' leadership has decided to launch a full scale offensive, perceiving

that the new government is now vulnerable and that only clear success on the

battlefield will force the government to accept their demands of inclusion in

the government and army.

The escalating civil war comes against a

backdrop of growing insecurity across the country with robberies and skirmishes

along the country's main highways a daily occurrence. Four Westerners have been

taken hostage, leading several embassies to issue stern travel warnings. Aid

workers have been evacuated from a number of provinces and United Nations

agencies have banned travel on previously safe highways.

The setbacks

come at a time when the government is being closely watched by investors and

international aid donors to see whether it can solve the problems that plagued

the country before the $2.8 billion UN peace plan.

The continuing

instability deters crucial international development aid, undermines long-term

private investment, threatens essential revenue from tourism and discourages

efforts to reconstruct the country's infrastructure. Without a firm economic

foundation, the prospects of building political stability are dim

indeed.

The failure of the dry season military campaign, which cost

hundreds of lives and drained the government's limited resources, demonstrated

to many analysts Phnom Penh's inability to destroy the Khmer Rouge militarily.

The Khmer Rouge now controls more territory than it did prior to the government

offensive and is threatening to seize areas not within their reach since they

were driven from power by the Vietnamese invasion 15 years ago.

The Khmer

Rouge battlefield successes raise the question of whether, if Cambodia is to

avoid unending low-level conflict, there is any alternative but to bring the

radical faction into a power-sharing arrangement. Such a formula is being

promoted by the King.

But the decision by both the CPP and Funcinpec

leadership to shun peace negotiations and continue the war effort despite their

embarrassing defeats has caused a flurry of behind the scenes political

maneuvering within both parties with senior members arguing with their own

leadership. Some analysts say that the divisions within Funcinpec over policy

directions have reached a crisis level.

As a result of all this,

observers agree, the government is suffering a serious crisis in confidence from

broad sectors of the population who see campaign promises to bring peace,

national reconciliation and economic improvements now a distant

hope.

Once again all eyes are on King Sihanouk, still viewed as the only

hope to broker an accord. He repeated his call on May 17 for "talks to take

place immediately somewhere without waiting for future developments."

On

May 17, the eve of his departure, he told the press at the Royal Palace the

Khmer Rouge must be included in a new government "as soon as

possible."

He said: "It is a necessity. I do not want to be pessimistic.

It is not pessimism. It is reality. The reality is not good for us or our

future. Cambodia could be a destroyed nation. A dead state."

The Khmer

Rouge military success in the west of the country says less about the strength

of the guerrillas than about the weaknesses of the government, army and

political apparatus, analysts say. Officials agree that it was a force of less

than 500 guerrillas who threatened Battambang town in late April.

Instead of making a stand, the provincial governor, military commanders,

and scores of officers fled their command posts, many all the way to Phnom Penh.

On seeing the conduct of their commanders, most of the troops simply abandoned

their positions when confronted.

The mood of the Khmer Rouge is one of

confidence mixed with anger over the government's decision to fight rather than

talk, during recent months.

"They should have chosen a political

solution, but they decided to seek a military solution. But now their Dien Bien

Phu has already happened," one senior Khmer Rouge official told the Post.

"Now the question is are they going to decide a new course or stay the

same course?" he said.

Then referring to a town west of Battambang he

added: "For 15 years we couldn't take Treng, but now their internal dynamics are

causing them to lose."

While they are currently in a position to launch

military assaults on provincial capitals in the north and west, the Khmer Rouge

do not have the ability to hold and administer a large or populous area,

analysts agree.

The government's ineptitude and corruption may have made

it widely unpopular, but the Khmer Rouge remain widely feared for its murderous

years in power. Any attempt to hold a significant populated area would almost

certainly result in spontaneous rebellion, panic and flight by the population.

More significantly, it could spark renewed foreign concern at the

specter of a return of the Khmer Rouge and tilt the balance in favor of those

who seek strong military assistance to the new government.

Prime Minister

Ranariddh confirmed on May 16 that his government has officially requested

military assistance from western and Asian countries in the wake of their loss

of Pailin to the guerrillas last month. Both Australia and the United States

have officially acknowledged that they are considering such aid.

But

privately diplomats say that they are reluctant to support military aid that

does not address the problems of the Cambodian military, escalate an unwinnable

war, and impede peace negotiations.

"The problem of the army is not a

question of supplies and troops," said one senior diplomat, "Rather it is a

question of leadership, organization and command structure."

Some senior

government officials privately oppose more foreign military support.

"It

will only move the war from low scale to large scale - nobody wins and nobody

loses, it will only intensify," said one government minister, "And then it will

prevent the development of the country. The aid and reconstruction efforts will

go up in smoke."

Said another senior government official: "The West must

not get involved. If the government boosts its military success, then the King

will lose influence, and the people who do not now support the Khmer Rouge will

support them...the West will be supporting a repressive regime and that will

only help the Khmer Rouge. We must try to give the King the means to solve the

war."

Sources close to the Khmer Rouge say that the guerrilla leadership

has made significant reassessment of their strategy in recent months that could

change the course of their near term tactics.

They say that the Khmer

Rouge have severed final hopes that Funcinpec-and Ranariddh in particular-can be

counted on to support a political solution that will include the guerrillas in a

new government of national reconciliation. The break with Funcinpec means the

guerrilla group sees the King as their only ally in supporting their inclusion

in a power sharing arrangement. It also means that they will increase their

resolve to launch a military push against the government, having given up hope

that negotiations with the government will bear any fruit.

"Up to now Hun

Sen and Ranariddh have not expressed any intention of compromising," a May 5

internal Khmer Rouge com-muniqué clarifying their position to supporters

concluded, "So unfortunately we are obliged to push more on the battlefield to

convince them they will not get anything more by military means."

Sources

say that the Khmer Rouge feel betrayed by Funcinpec, who they say had made

secret agreements with the guerrillas both prior and after the elections that

had Funcinpec promising to push for the inclusion of the Khmer Rouge in a

government that emerged from the UN-sponsored elections.

"Up to now we

have misunderstood the true nature of the participation of Funcinpec in the

two-headed government," the Khmer Rouge internal com-muniqué obtained by the

Post said. "During the election process and after the elections we gave full

support to Funcinpec, saying it should be granted with full state power. Even

when Funcinpec attacked us in Thmar Puok in August 1993 we were very careful on

not blaming them, considering that it was forced to do so and focusing our

attacks on the Vietnamese puppets, remaining firmly on the basis of supporting

Funcinpec. This analysis was false. Actually Funcinpec has fully accepted to

join hands with the Vietnamese, the puppets, and the Alliance [of western

countries] in the strategic objective of destroying the DK."

The Khmer

Rouge document continues by accusing Ranariddh of "consciously taking the

leadership of the movement against us" and that this "is not a policy he has

been forced to endorse but really his own policy."

"What our successes in

Anlong Veng and Pailin have clearly demonstrated is that we can continue the

struggle under the current circumstances, that is without external support," the

document continued.

"It is similar to the situation in 1973 after the

peace agreement signed by the Vietnamese. At that time we were isolated from

external support. We had to rely on the people and we had to get our ammunition

from the enemy.

"Around Thmar Puok we have gotten about 1,000 tons of

ammunition and arms in one stockpile, and 2,000 tons in another. In Pailin,

thanks to the money from the Alliance, we have received a lot of military

supplies kindly delivered by the puppet army. In Poipet, we bought important

quantities of ammunition from the enemy. Once again that is similar to what

happened in 1973 and 1974."

The bleak outlook for national stability has

sparked a nascent behind the scenes movement to give more power to King Sihanouk

to forge a new government of national reconciliation.

Composed of

Funcinpec officials and supporters, students, elements within the national

assembly, and others, the movement would have the National Assembly give

extraordinary powers to King Sihanouk to take some of the reins of the state

enabling him to forge a peace solution.

The move was to culminate in a

demonstration scheduled for Tuesday May 17, but was banned by the Ministry of

Interior on May 16 after anonymous leaflets were distributed threatening

violence against the demonstrators.

The King also asked that the

demonstration not be held after he was told by government officials that there

could be bloodshed.

The demonstrators, who were going to march from the

Olympic Market to the Royal palace, distributed 20,000 newspapers and leaflets.

The handouts called for support for the King's peace proposal, an end to the

government's war effort and denounced communism and corruption.

The

organizers and leaflets also pointedly attacked Funcinpec for failing to deliver

on its election promises of bringing national reconciliation, ending corruption

and stopping the war.

Organizers say that a petition was signed by 30 MPs

from Funcinpec and the BLDP calling for giving "appropriate" powers to the King

to "save the country".

Senior Funcinpec sources say that on May 13, when

Ranariddh heard of the move, he threatened to fire any Funcinpec MPs who

supported the petition.

Ranariddh has had to face not only attacks from

the Khmer Rouge and back-room maneuvering from his former enemies and current

coalition partners of the CPP, but also significant dissent among his own

leading party members.

Funcinpec sources say that both Economics and

Finance Minister Sam Rainsy and Foreign Minister Norodom Sirivuddh are at

loggerheads with Ranariddh over what they say is his autocratic style and

compromises with their CPP partners.

"Even on the Funcinpec party

steering committee, Ranariddh does not now have the majority needed to fire

those who oppose him," said one senior party official.

"There can be a

new deal, a national movement," said a leading Cambodian political figure who

supports the move, "If a faction of the CPP, the BLDP, and Funcinpec in the

national assembly come together we can get 80 MP's to change the constitution to

give power to the King. We do not need to organize new elections, because the

national assembly already supports the King."

They say that a

constitutional change to give powers to King Sihanouk would depend on how much

further the state of the country deteriorates. "If the government is defeated on

the battlefield and the King is in good health, this will happen - power will go

to the King," said a senior government official. "If the government is strong on

the battlefield and the Kings health is bad it will be difficult to turn over

power to him."

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