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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - King bids to broker peace talks

King bids to broker peace talks

H IS Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk Varman has revealed he is

to hold separate talks with Khmer Rouge President Khieu Samphan and Co-premiers

Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Samdech Hun Sen in the hopes of brokering a peace

deal.

But King Sihanouk, who is due to arrive in Phnom Penh today (April

8), said he is not optimistic about the outcome.

Speaking from Beijing in

a wide-ranging and exclusive interview with thePost, the King said the

co-premiers both appeared reluctant to talk peace with the KR.

But His

Majesty said he had already accepted a request from Samphan for an audience. The

nominal KR leader has not been in Phnom Penh since last year when the guerrilla

faction withdrew from the UN-supervized peace process.

While backing the

Royal Government's offensive which took the Khmer Rouge headquarters at Pailin,

the King sounded a stark warning that it could lead to the government's

downfall.

The revered 71-year-old monarch said he was recovering from the

bone marrow cancer which struck him down last year, causing him to seek

treatment in Beijing. But he revealed there is a new threat to his

health.

Post: How is Your Majesty's health now? There have been

encouraging reports that the hospital treatment in Beijing was a

success.

King: Thanks to the extremely competent and devoted

care of my eminent Chinese doctors, there now remains a mere 0.5 percent of

cancerous tumors and nodules from the spinal bone marrow, whereas only a few

months ago, it was six percent. However, my strength has been much undermined,

and my resistance to infection is poor.

Also, I am not strong enough to

cope with too arduous a program of duties. I have another medical problem which

is, in fact, more serious than my cancer; namely, arteriosclorosis which could

one day cause a major stroke.

Post: What date is Your Majesty planning

to arrive?

King: All being well, I will arrive in Phnom Penh

on April 8, 1994, but immediately on alighting from the plane, it will be

necessary for me to go directly to the Royal Palace by car since it is essential

that I should not be over-fatigued. I have requested that the Royal Government

of Cambodia should not organize an official welcoming ceremony.

Post:

How long is Your Majesty planning to stay in Cambodia and what events are

planned?

King: My Chinese doctors have asked me to return to

the hospital in Beijing at the end of one month in Phnom Penh since the

extremely busy schedule here in my country could complicate the remaining cancer

treatment.

However, I intend to remain for two months as my fellow

countrymen would be disappointed if I stayed for too short a time.

While

in Cambodia, it will be necessary for me to meet with important foreign

dignitaries, receive credentials from ambassadors, have working meetings with

Cambodian officials, and preside at religious and traditional ceremonies.

In addition, I will give public audiences as well as continuing my

humanitarian work, pursuing my "Water Policy," and putting into effect several

projects in the provinces.

Post: On a personal level, what things are

Your Majesty looking forward to most in Cambodia on your

return?

King: Cambodia, at present, is faced with many

serious problems. These I have already discussed in my "Etudes Cambodgiennes" of

March/April 1994. You may obtain a copy of these from my son-in-law, Keo Puth

Reasmey.

I intend, on my return to Phnom Penh, to concentrate on two of

these problems. Firstly, I will try to find a way of improving relations between

the people of Cambodia and the Royal Cambodian Government and National Assembly.

Secondly, I will address the Khmer Rouge problem.

While in Phnom Penh, I

will grant an audience to Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh along with

Samdech Hun Sen and another to Khieu Samphan, president of the Party of

Democratic Kampuchea.

I will see what I can do, step by step, to steer

Cambodia towards peace which my country and its unfortunate people have not

known in the period since the coup d'état instigated by Lon Nol on March 18,

1970, until now in 1994. Twenty four years of war, killing and misery: it is too

much to bear.

Post: What is Your Majesty's view on the current

political situation after the capture of Pailin? Does Your Majesty support the

military push made by the Royal Government?

King: The

offensive mounted by the Royal Government and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces

against the defacto partitioning of Cambodia and to prevent further destruction

of the country's natural resources by the Khmer Rouge for their own profit and

for the gain of foreign interests, is legitimate, unavoidable, and most

laudable.

However, one must be wary of a disastrous outcome to this

offensive as happened in the case of the full-scale onslaught by the RCAF

against the Khmer Rouge at Anlong Veng.

This serious situation at Pailin

is like a double-edged sword: if, finally, the Royal Government and the RCAF

take permanent control of Pailin with its wealth of minerals and timber, it

would be a benefit of historic proportions for Cambodia.

But if sooner

or later the outcome should be the same as at Anlong Veng, the consequences for

the credibility of the Royal Government and the morale of the RCAF would be

extremely grave and hypothetically could threaten the very future of our new

regime, born in September 1993.

Post: What moves should the Royal

Government make now to resolve the Khmer Rouge problem: Does Your Majesty sense

that the faction may be keener now to talk after the loss of

Pailin?

King: Mr Khieu Samphan, the president of the PDK, has

asked for an audience and I will grant him one in around two weeks from now.

The question of talks between the leaders of the Royal Government and

the president of the PDK, is one which is difficult for me to address.

Since firstly, if the Royal Government and ARK continue to gain ground

at Pailin, Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh and Samdech Hun Sen will have no

reason for accepting "round table" talks with Mr Khieu Samphan; and secondly, if

the Khmer Rouge gain a victory at Pailin in the form of an all-out counter

attack as at Anlong Veng, it will be difficult for me to invite the leaders of

the Royal Government to a round-table meeting with Mr Khieu Samphan without

causing them extreme loss of face.

Samdech Hun Sen is not in favor of the

idea of talks with Mr Khieu Samphan. Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh is not

disposed to negotiate peace with Mr Khieu Samphan. I wish for peace for my

people, but I can take no measures to facilitate that peace while a great

political chasm exists between the leaders of the Royal Government and those of

the PDK.

Post: What are Your Majesty's feelings about the repatriation

of refugees from the Pailin region by the Thai border authorities? These people

were apparently trucked to other Khmer Rouge-held zones and released with little

or no consultation with the Royal Government.

King: I deplore

the fact that each and every refugee did not have the right to choose freely the

zone [either PDK or Royal Government] into which he or she was repatriated. It

was necessary to appeal to the UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red

Cross to assure this freedom of choice. Those refugees who did not wish to come

back and resettle in the Khmer Rouge zone and who, prior to their forced

repatriation, had expressed their rejection of the Khmer Rouge, faced the risk

of being savagely punished by the Pol Potist Angkar.

Post: Is Your

Majesty satisfied with the performance of the Royal Government to date,

particularly in the light of criticism that it has been slow in passing

essential new laws?

King: I regret that projects to

develop a legal system remain projects, since our country needs badly to become

truly a state worthy of its name with essential laws well conceived, and a legal

and administrative system of the highest quality.

Post: Your Majesty

has called on the Royal Government not to bring in a law governing the press.

Does Your Majesty feel that call will be heeded?

King: I am

sad to perceive that there exists still in Cambodia a lack of understanding

between certain personages and journalists.

The choice to be considered

by all our national authorities should be a simple one: either we decide to

present Cambodia with freedom of the press or maintain a regime here which

limits that freedom.

Since we have already taken a solemn vow to create

a modern liberal democracy in Cambodia, we should keep our promise and give

total respect to both the Cambodian and foreign press without any

restriction.

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