FORMER United States Congressman Stephen Solarz, who played an influential role in Cambodian-United States relations during the 1980s and early 1990s, passed away on Monday at the age of 70.
The nine-term representative from Brooklyn, New York, succumbed to esophageal cancer at a hospital in Washington, DC.
Solarz served on the House foreign affairs committee, taking the helm of the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in 1981 and shaping – and at times steering – US policy in Cambodia throughout the turbulent 1980s and early 1990s.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday he was sorry to hear of Solarz’s passing, and recalled how Solarz had dubbed the 1993 elections “a miracle”.
“He put a lot forward to bring about peace in Cambodia.”
Solarz is credited with proposing an early version of the plan that would eventually establish the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia.
According to the proposal, the UN would temporarily govern until free elections, after which the UN would transfer authority to an elected government. Although the US did not initially adopt the plan, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Gareth Evans pushed it as part of a peace proposal as early as 1990.
Negotiations had snagged on a proposed power-sharing agreement between the Vietnam-backed Hun Sen government and the three-party Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, composed of the royalist FUNCINPEC party, the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front and the Khmer Rouge.
But the Solarz/Evans vision for the enlarged UN role sidestepped the issue and paved the way for the possibility of a legitimate, elected government.
Solarz also came under criticism for supporting the US policy of providing aid and diplomatic recognition to the two non-communist elements of the CGDK.
Solarz believed that supporting the faction led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk would strengthen the hand of the famously mercurial prince against the Pol Pot guerillas. But US policy was viewed widely as instead contributing to the resurgence of the Khmer Rouge.