Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge have called the world's bluff, and the Cambodian peace process
is in crisis.
Since last October's Paris agreement, the international community has given the Khmer
Rouge valuable time to aggressively expand their military control, move into the
political arena, stockpile weapons, and collect vast sums of money-all without the
U.N. control which the agreement stipulates and to which the other Cambodian parties
As the country's economy collapses through international pressure and continuing
denial of aid, the Khmer Rouge again threaten the people of Cambodia. Without determined
international action, they will become an integral part of the country's political
future, despite their genocidal past.
The Khmer Rouge have refused to disarm their soldiers as required by the second phase
of the peace agreement. Meanwhile, 50,000 of their opponents have been disarmed by
the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).
On Sept. 25, the U.N. Security Council warned the Khmer Rouge that at a meeting the
following week it would decide "whether to close Thailand's border with Cambodia
to cut off the Khmer Rouge's export trade in tropical lumber and precious stones,
the group's main source of income."
But this option was not adopted. The outcome was a decision to go ahead with elections
even if the Khmer Rouge deny the population in their zones a vote, and a future meeting
to "discuss ways of bringing the Khmer Rouge back into the peace plan."
Pol Pot must be quaking in his boots.
Deadline after deadline has been ignored. Since notifying UNTAC on June 10 of their
refusal to disarm or give UNTAC access to its zones, the Khmer Rouge have continued
to violate the peace agreement with impunity.
In mid-June UNTAC Director Yasushi Akashi said that the Khmer Rouge "seems to
have returned to the offensive in the northern part of Cambodia," committed
"pretty serious violations," and "gravely compromised" the settlement.
In early June a U.N. helicopter flying near the Khmer Rouge base of Pailin in northwest
Cambodia was hit by a ground fire. UNTAC again responded with restraint, merely sending
a letter "to the senior liaison officer in Pailin, requesting troops in the
area. . .to refrain from such actions."
Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger stated: "We do
not believe that efforts to halt the [peace] process should be cost-free to those
involved. . .We must resolve to ensure that the saboteurs of peace would be the ones
to suffer the most."
French Deputy Foreign Minister Georges Kiejman proposed a plan "to prevent the
Khmer Rouge from getting resources as they do right now through the more or less
illicit trading of gems" from Pailin, and timber. The Khmer Rouge are estimated
to be making U.S. $100 million a year through mining and logging. But Kiejman's plan
has not been implemented.
The Khmer Rouge's intransigence provoked a split in the UNTAC ranks. In mid-July
the deputy commander of the U.N. forces, French General Michel Loridon, who favored
a tougher approach, resigned.
"I am leaving Cambodia frustrated by my inability to implement the U.N. mandate,"
he said. "Here was our chance to deal with the Khmer Rouge, push them to implement
the accords they have signed. But I haven't succeeded in getting my superiors to
agree with me." UNTAC, Loridon said, was "just sitting and waiting for
the Khmer Rouge leaders to agree to disarm their troops."
Loridon believed that firm action would have brought results. "It is possible
at some point they will try to block the U.N. move by force. If it comes to that,
one may lose 200 men-and that could include myself-but the Khmer Rouge problem would
be solved for good."
According to an Australian U.N. military officer, the Khmer Rouge also "moved
into areas of Battambang and Siem Reap provinces to fill the vacuum created by the
cantonment" of their opponents and the U.N.'s disarming of Phnom Penh government
Also in mid-July, the Khmer Rouge again escalated their violent activities. Eight
civilians were killed and 11 injured in new fighting in central, northern, and southern
Cambodia. Akashi blamed the Khmer Rouge, saying: "Unfortunately the present
ceasefire violations continue to increase in number and in seriousness. The nature
of these actions points to a deliberate policy against ordinary Cambodians."
This terror has included racial massacres. On April 28 Khmer Rouge troops, armed
with B-40 rocket launchers and AK-47 rifles, stormed a village in Kompong Chhnang
province and killed seven ethnic Vietnamese civilians.
Four days later, UNTAC sent a representative to the village, and locals appealed
for 10 troopers to be stationed there for their protection. But this was not done,
and on May 14 the Khmer Rouge struck again. "The people have lost hope and left,"
a local official said.
On July 21 came another atrocity, this time in Kampot province. In a small village
near the Vietnamese border, gunmen massacred an ethnic Vietnamese couple and their
seven-day old son, four other children aged seven to 16-Cambodians whose grandmother
was Vietnamese-and their uncle. Neighbors heard shouts of "Destroy the Vietnamese
enemy!" Villagers told UNTAC that the killers were wearing military uniforms,
but that "after the slaughter the men ran towards a hideout of the Khmer Rouge."
However, one U.N. official in Phnom Penh claimed "there is no evidence"
that the attack was carried out by the Khmer Rouge and another claimed that renegade
government forces were responsible. U.N. officers further claimed that a government
military unit stationed nearby had done nothing to stop the hour-long attack.
All this proved false. When UNTAC's Civilian Police Component concluded its investigation
in August, Deputy Representative Behrooz Sadry revealed that witnesses' testimony
and other evidence proved the government soldiers did try to catch the assailants
and that Khmer Rouge guerrillas were to blame. But no suspects were apprehended,
and much damage had been done by the U.N.'s predilection to take seriously the propaganda
of the Khmer Rouge-despite their recent similar attacks, their history of genocide,
and their long record of deception.
The Khmer Rouge soon threatened yet another racial pogrom. The U.S. Chief of Mission
in Phnom Penh, Charles Twining, stated his fear that history might repeat itself,
with bodies of Vietnamese seen floating down the Mekong as in 1970.
Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan said: "If the Cambodian people cannot see a
peaceful resolution to the problem, they will seek other means. So Twining's nightmare
might become a reality."
But Khmer Rouge targets are not restricted to Vietnamese residents. Three days before
the Kampot massacre, Khmer Rouge guerrillas mortared a Cambodian Buddhist monastery
in Siem Reap province, killing one monk, injuring three others, and destroying the
temple. In July, defectors told UNTAC that a Khmer Rouge general had executed their
company commander for his readiness to respect the Paris agreement on cantonment
On July 21 the U.N. Security Council voted "to ensure that international assistance
to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Cambodia from now on only benefits the
parties that are fulfilling their obligations." However, by early October, no
measures had been taken against those not fulfilling their obligations, and no aid
had arrived for those who are.
On July 26 Thai Foreign Minister Arsa Sarasin announced that the Khmer Rouge had
until the end of August to comply with the Paris agreement. This deadline, too, passed
Akashi overruled the Khmer Rouge to insist that UNTAC was "entitled to send
civilian and military police to zones under [Khmer Rouge] control at a suitable point
in the near future," but two months later he had still not done so. On Sept.
4 the United Nations lamely expressed "serious concern."
The international policy towards the Khmer Rouge amounts to appeasement, and it has
elicited similar results. Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, an architect
of the peace plan, had asserted after it was signed that the "genocide issue
and all the emotion that's associated with that had now been resolved." He even
stated in July that the Khmer Rouge's complaints have "some reasonable foundation,"
and he "agreed with the idea of holding meetings with the Khmer Rouge, and that
things should not be as before."
On Aug. 20, the U.S. State Department warned that "if the Khmer Rouge continue
to obstruct the peace process, we expect that the Security Council may have to [consider]
further measures against the Khmer Rouge." But no action was taken.
UNTAC military commander General John Sanderson expressed optimism that UNTAC would
be able to "bring the Khmer Rouge back to the peace process," saying he
was "certain he can persuade local Khmer Rouge leaders to disarm." UNTAC
officials even claimed that "Khmer Rouge officers in several provinces have
said they are making active preparations to cooperate in the cantonment process in
the weeks ahead." Little came of this either.
Moreover, Eagleburger, then Acting U.S. Secretary of State, backed away from his
June warning that violations should not be "cost-free" and that "the
saboteurs" should "suffer."
"We may have to come to that," he said, describing sanctions as "something
we may have to look at reasonably soon." But now, he said, "the fundamental
point [is that the Khmer Rouge] are not going to benefit from the agreements if they
are not going to play by the rules."
The real point, however, is that the Khmer Rouge have already benefited enormously
from the implementation of the agreement. Denying them further benefits is no substitute
for punishing them for failure to respect an agreement they signed, which the other
Cambodian parties are implementing at their own cost.
On Sept. 2 Prince Norodom Sihanouk announced that the elections should go ahead without
the Khmer Rouge, who should be "set aside."
Ten days later Sihanouk, Akashi, and representatives of the five permanent members
of the U.N. Security Council made a pilgrimage to Pailin, where they attempted to
persuade the Khmer Rouge to rejoin the peace process. They failed. Sihanouk, at the
behest of China, then withdrew his statement that the U.N. peace process should go
ahead without the Khmer Rouge.
The U.N. Security Council's October decision to hold elections on schedule in May
1993 without an attempt to prevent the Khmer Rouge denying a vote to the people in
its zones was a weak enough response to repeated violations of the ceasefire and
But the Khmer Rouge responded with further violations, blowing up two bridges in
northern Cambodia, "the closest yet the Khmer Rouge have attacked to Phnom Penh,"
according to an UNTAC official. At the same time a senior Khmer Rouge commander admitted
that his guerrillas kidnapped eight ethnic Vietnamese, and the bodies of another
10 were found near the Cambodian coast. Khieu Samphan appears to have kept his word.
In late August, the former director of the U.S. State Department's Office for Vietnam,
Laos and Cambodia, Shep Lowman, acknowledged that from 1978 until 1986, "the
U.S. countenanced the revival and building up of the Khmer Rouge's political and
military capacity as ways to counterbalance Vietnamese might."
But from 1986, Lowman asserted, the U.S. had to "find a way to control the monster
that we had allowed to be created." Few people were more associated with the
creation of that monster than Jeane Kirkpatrick, who as U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations had voted for the Khmer Rouge to represent their Cambodian victims in international
But Kirkpatrick now sees the problem. She wrote in August that "the Khmer Rouge
refuses to turn in its weapons or permit U.N. access to areas under its control."
Because this "aggressor" has refused "to carry out an agreement to
which it had acquiesced, [the Cambodian peace plan] is on the verge of collapsing,"
"The Khmer Rouge," Kirk-patrick continued, "has used a painstakingly-negotiated
international agreement for disarmament, resettlement, and elections as an opportunity
for its troops to re-enter Phnom Penh and other areas of Cambodia from which they
had been driven." Unfortunately, she added, U.N. officials speak as if Pol Pot
"rather suddenly developed a will to peace and could be counted on" to
honor his commitments-"next time."
"They talk as if they did not know the consequences of such delays are irreversible,"
- Ben Kiernan is associate professor of Southeast Asian History at Yale University
and author of How Pol Pot Came to Power and other works on modern Cambodia.