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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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
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."
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,
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.
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.
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."
government officials privately oppose more foreign military support.
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
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."
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."
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
"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.
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.
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."