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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Villagers Feel Deserted as U.N. Pulls Out

Villagers Feel Deserted as U.N. Pulls Out

Villagers Feel Deserted as U.N. Pulls Out

THMAR PUOK (AP) - As the United Nations prepares to end its largest peacekeeping

operation ever, battle-weary Cambodians say the world body has failed in its main

aim here-to end 15 years of civil war.

During a five-day trip across the country's two tensest provinces, villagers expressed

dismay that U.N. forces have begun withdrawing this month while the clatter of rifle

fire and the thump of exploding rockets, grenades , and mines still echo across the

countryside.

The Khmer Rouge guerrilla group fought the former Vietnamese-installed government

for more than a decade. Now it is fighting the armed forces of the newly elected

government.

"I don't think the U.N. did a good job here because they never dealt with the

Khmer Rouge," says Kousum Sarun, a 40-year-old driver in Siem Reap province.

"They did not bring peace."

The 17-month U.N. mission was to monitor a 1991 cease-fire called by the country's

four factions, and to disarm and demobilize the factions' almost 200,000 troops.

But one of the factions, the Khmer Rouge, refused to lay down its weapons. The other

three factions followed suit and skirmishes continued.

By May, the United Nations had spent much of its U.S. $2 billion budget-the biggest

ever for a peacekeeping operation. And having committed 22,000 personnel and tons

of equipment to Cambodia, it pushed ahead with the poll.

About 90 percent of the electorate turned out to vote, and U.N. officials declared

the mission a resounding success.

But the continued Khmer Rouge attacks have villagers questioning the success of the

mission.

The Khmer Rouge now controls 20 percent of Cambodia with a fighting force of 10,000

men. The guerrilla group killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians during a brutal

reign in the mid-1970s.

While the new government's flag flaps above the capital, the different flags of the

four factions dot the countryside.

In Banteay Meanchey province, checkpoints remain on roads between villages controlled

by the Khmer Rouge and each of the three other factions. The latter are technically

united under the newly elected government.

Soldiers of each faction keep to their own territory. Villagers get from one zone

to another only by paying hefty bribes to heavily armed soldiers.

"There has been no change at all," says Ngeth Sophon, a 49-year-old project

chief for the U.S. Agency for International Development in the village of Thmar Puok

in Banteay Meanchey province. "They have not yet given up their zones."

Khmer Rouge leaders have recognized the new government and are holding talks to secure

a role in its administration.

But the guerrilla group's soldiers in the countryside say they are under orders to

continue attacks on forces of the former Vietnamese-installed government.

Phing Lor, 27, a Khmer Rouge guerrilla guarding a checkpoint leading into his village,

said he is under orders now to attack twice a week. Another guerrilla, Hour Chea,

18, said he wants peace but doesn't expect it until 1995, when he thinks the Khmer

Rouge will unite with the other factions.

But Col. Hong Sothy, commander of government tank units in Banteay Meanchey and Siem

Reap provinces, says the only way Cambodia will ever be unified is if the Khmer Rouge

is wiped out

"The Khmer Rouge will never stop fighting. Even if some of the Khmer Rouge join

the new government, others will stay in the jungles to fight," Hong says. "The

government will have to kill off the Khmer Rouge by military force. It is the only

way."

"The U.N. has done nothing about the Khmer Rouge," says Yem Han, a 23-year-old

truck driver. "I am angry that the U.N. is leaving now because we still don't

have peace in Cambodia."

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