In his fourth and final progress report before the elections, United Nations Secretary
General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, suggested that the U.N. was overly optimistic in
its expectations to ensure free and fair elections and facilitate national reconciliation
"The election will clearly not be taking place in an environment as disarmed
and politically neutral as was envisaged in the Paris Agreements," Boutros-Ghali
said in the report.
Describing the last 13 months as a "sobering experience," Boutros-Ghali
said there were concerns whether the election should proceed and if it did, whether
it would represent the true voice of the Cambodian people.
"The United Nations faces a difficult decision. One alternative is to proceed
with the best election under imperfect conditions, in the knowledge that this is
what the majority of Cambodians desire and in the hope that the authentic voice of
Cambodia will be heard and obeyed."
"The other choice would be to declare that the basic acceptable conditions for
free and fair elections do not exist because of the climate of fear and hostility,
and because violence may worsen further after the elections, whatever the results."
Boutros-Ghali said he favored the former alternative because the Cambodian people
have overwhelmingly shown that they want an election, the twenty competing parties
have committed themselves to accepting the results and tens of thousands of people
are engaging peacefully in public meetings and political rallies.
However, he said, it would be prudent to assume that further violence is likely.
"The danger is that such attacks will have an impact on voter turnout."
UNTAC has undertaken a number of security measures in anticipation of disruption
attempts, he stated. But he pointed out that these measures may further reduce the
turnout while still not guaranteeing 100 percent security for voters and U.N. personnel
if "armed and violent individuals are determined to hinder the election."
But, taking all this into consideration, Boutros-Ghali said there was no doubt in
his mind that UNTAC must continue to carry out its mandate as well as possible with
the utmost consideration for the safety of its own staff and the well-being of Cambodians.
"It may well be, in the light of the sobering experiences of the last 13 months,
that the expectations originally entertained for ensuring that the election is free
and fair and for the success of national reconciliation were overly optimistic."
Many observers both in and outside of UNTAC have long stated, particularly since
the failure of phase two of the peace plan, that these expectations were near impossible.
They pointed to the fact that not only was the country still armed but it was plagued
by a burdensome 25 year history of conflict starting with minor revolts, then a major
revolution combined with B-52 carpet bombing, followed by a perverse experiment in
social organization that culminated in auto-genocide and then, from the ashes of
that holocaust, a lengthy, bitter, low intensity civil war which is still simmering.
Boutros-Ghali also alludes to this historic backdrop when he stated that expectations
were perhaps too high.
"Given the country's recent tragic history, it would probably be neither realistic
nor fair to hold it to prevailing standards in stable democratic countries. Conditions
in Cambodia have never been perfect and may not be so for a long time, any more than
they are in many other countries. That is no reason to hold back an election which,
after all, is not the end of the process of Cambodia's renewal but the beginning."
To call a halt to the elections, he said, would mean ceding to unacceptable threats
and giving the right of veto over the peace process to "an armed group"
that has rejected its commitments under the Paris Agreement.
He accused all the signatories of the peace accords of being less than consistent
in cooperating with UNTAC and in implementing the agreements.
"I think that it is worth restating that the primary responsibility for implementing
the agreements rests squarely on the Cambodian parties themselves. Cambodian parties
cannot expect the international community to succeed where they themselves failed."
He warned the State of Cambodia to desist from using state resources for party gain
and called on SOC to prevent or punish those responsible for politically motivated
violence in its zone.
But his strongest words were reserved for the Khmer Rouge. "The Party of Democratic
Kampuchea risks international and internal isolation if it is seen to have attempted
to disrupt the Cambodian elections. That party must also be held responsible for
the attacks it has carried out against Cambodians, including those of Vietnamese
ancestry, and against UNTAC personnel, as well as any future attacks it may carry
The secretary general does not make it clear what holding the Khmer Rouge responsible
for attacks actually means.
During his recent visit to Phnom Penh, the Post asked Boutros-Ghali how he viewed
Prime Minister Hun Sen's accusation that Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan was responsible
for ordering the various attacks and should therefore brought to trial and ejected
from the SNC.
"Before the elections you will have this kind of dispute and accusation, and
this is, if you like, one of the negative aspects of democracy," Boutros-Ghali
Some observers felt that Boutros-Ghali himself was undermining the process with such
"By issuing such a declaration, Mr. Boutros-Ghali has lost all credibility as
the defender of the ideals of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration
of the Human Rights and all the texts on which the civilized world bases the future
of mankind," Cambodian scholar Raoul Jennar said, adding it was a "devastatingly
cynical and irresponsible answer."
The secretary general ended his fourth progress report by reiterating that the responsibility
for Cambodia's future rests on the shoulders of the Cambodian people and parties.
"The situation in Cambodia remains uncertain and the way ahead for the peace
process and for UNTAC will not be smooth. Nevertheless, UNTAC will continue to do
its utmost to assist the Cambodian people in carrying out their obligations under
the Paris Agreements and achieving a future of peace, stability and self-determination,"