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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Split Emerges in Core Group

Split Emerges in Core Group

The confusion in recent weeks surrounding Prince Sihanouk's aborted attempt to form

a coalition government has exacerbated sensitive differences between the key foreign

powers involved in the peace agreement over how to proceed in coming weeks. The Post

has learned that Japan and France both met secretly with Sihanouk in Peking in May

to propose that he create an interim government immediately after elections. Sihanouk

was said to reject the proposal then, but his latest move on June 4 had the support

of the two countries. Australia, the United States, China, and Britain are said to

have balked at supporting Sihanouk's lightening move because of worries that it would

become a permanent arrangement and that it did not reflect the FUNCINPEC victory.

Nevertheless the diplomatic community appears unanimous in their readiness to support

some sort of Sihanouk-led government in the next weeks, after the final results of

the elections are formalized and given the full official weight of support by the

United Nations. It is believed the State of Cambodia, at that time, will have no

choice but to back down in it's objections. The only other alternative -a coup-would

have virtually no chance of surviving more than a matter of weeks, analysts agree.

The period between now and the end of August, where there remains a vacuum of real

authority, and a lame duck administration with control of security and armed forces,

has diplomats and UNTAC leaders in agreement that Sihanouk must be given real authority.

The debate is over how to arrange it to ensure that an interim authority doesn't

become permanent, reflects the popular mandate expressed in the elections, and doesn't

pre-empt the formation of a new constitution and government as outlined in the Paris


Diplomats acknowledge that there is a split over what kind of powers such an interim

authority should have. Japan and France in particular, with the support of Russia,

have long favored giving Sihanouk strong executive powers as a means to pre-empt

the long-simmering threat of a collapse of the Paris agreements. It was France who

promulgated the idea of initiating early presidential elections in order to transfer

real power to Sihanouk-even though the Paris agreement made no mention of such a

proposal. And some Perm Five diplomats say that the three countries are prepared

to turn a blind eye to allowing an interim government to indeed be permanent.

In a confidential U.S. non-paper obtained by the Post and distributed on June 3-the

day before Sihanouk's announcement of the short-lived national reconciliation government-the

United States set its official policy clearly. "The U.S. is concerned about

recent discussions among the Cambodian parties concerning the immediate formation

of an interim coalition government in Cambodia may lead to a violation of the Paris

accords and the spirit of the successful election....We thus want to underscore the

importance of ensuring that any attempts to forge a coalition among the parties which

participated in the elections to create a new government adhere strictly to the process

laid down by the Paris Accords. In particular the constituent assembly must be permitted

to carry out fully its responsibility to draft a new constitution and forming the

new government in Cambodia"

While saying the U.S. would support "political leaders to establish the broadest

possible coalition among parties that took part in the election...we must make it

clear that this should not in any way pre-empt the constitutional assembly's promulgation

of the new constitution which would detail the structure of the new government to

be formed.

"To do so would undermine the entire electoral process and the transition to

democracy begun so successfully with last week's election. It would break faith with

the Cambodian people who turned out in such impressive numbers to express their desire

to decide their own political future. We are therefore opposed to the establishment

of any interim government. We should follow the procedures laid out in the Paris

agreements,"the statement said.

The U.S. position which reached Sihanouk within hours of his formation of the new

government, outraged the prince, who remains deeply suspicious of the United States

who he blames for his ouster from power 23 years ago. In a nationwide radio address

on June 8, he said he had abandoned the idea of his government largely because of

the U.S. opposition.

A senior Perm Five diplomat in Phnom Penh confirmed that Japan, France and Russia

are pitted against Britain, Australia, the United States and China over the question

of the terms of the interim authority. While opposed to an interim government, they

are all in agreement for the need for an "interim arrangement."

"As long as it is interim, and does not interfere or curtail the activities

of the constituent assembly to draft a constitution and form a new government, we

are all in agreement," said the diplomat. "We need an interim arrangement

to increase chances of stability during this transition period," he said.

Another diplomat said that Sihanouk's short-lived June 4 government was "blackmail

against UNTAC. SOC was negotiating for interim power, this was permanent.'' But France

and Japan are said to be focused on the broader issue of maintaining stability, peace

and promoting a workable power sharing system that could achieve national stability

even if it does not reflect the results of the election or fall within the terms

of the Paris agreement.

"It is the old debate-peace or democracy? Some countries think the situation

is serious enough that one will sacrifice the other and Sihanouk must be given real

power now, even if it violates the terms of the Paris Accords," said the diplomat.

Both France and Japan have long shown a willingness to support a Sihanouk-led government

largely composed of the administration of the State of Cambodia, even to replace

constituent assembly elections, according to diplomats.

Of particular focus is the status of the armed forces during this period. The Post

has learned that UNTAC will begin taking over the responsibility of paying the civil

service, police, and armed forces of the SOC, to attempt to mollify those that are

afraid that a transition of power will leave them unemployed and without means to

support themselves and their families.

It is hoped that Sihanouk will be given soon the formal role of commander in chief

of the armed forces as a step towards creating an apolitical national army that is

no longer allied to only one political faction.

In the meanwhile, the Khmer Rouge are remaining quiet, and have reiterated their

support-for their own reasons-of a Sihanouk led government that would allow them

some seat at the table of power." The objective of the Paris agreement was not

elections," a senior Khmer Rouge official told the Post on June 4. ''It is only

a means to achieve national reconciliation, territorial integrity, and the withdrawal

of foreign forces. We cannot solve the problem of Cambodia without national reconciliation."

He said the Khmer Rouge support Sihanouk intervening but only if the arrangement

sufficiently strips SOC of control over key functions of power, particularly the

armed forces. He said the Khmer Rouge were happy with the election results, and the

faction, in a private meeting between Khieu Samphan and Ranariddh on June 3 in Bangkok,

has offered full support to Ranariddh. "Unfortunately the winner has no armed

forces, and the loser has the army," the senior Khmer Rouge official said.



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