The following interview with Yasushi Akashi, the Special Representative of the
U.N. Secretary General, was conducted in Phnom Penh on Oct. 23, the first anniversary
of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.
Phnom Penh Post: Mr. Akashi, it's been a year since the peace agreement
was signed in Cambodia. What's your assessment of the progress so far?
Yasushi Akashi: The Cambodian peace agreement still provides the basic framework
for political dialogue and negotiation among the factions in Cambodia. Of course
different factions present divergent interpretations of the peace agreement, so implementation
by the U.N. of the agreement is not so easy. But I think, nevertheless, that our
strength, our advantage in Cambodia is that we have at least this underlying agreement,
while in many other parts of the world, a peacekeeping operation is launched without
this basic political framework. We are fortunate to have it.
Post: The Khmer Rouge-or the Party of Democratic Kam-puchea-have refused to comply
with the second phase of the peace process, the disarming and demobilization of their
troops, and they're also refusing to let U.N. personnel into areas of the country
under their control. How much does this threaten the whole peace process?
Akashi: I think there is no doubt that it constitutes a threat and challenge to
the whole peace process and to the prestige also of the United Nations. But I think
that the great majority of Cambodians do not share the views of the DK, and the U.N.
Security Council is working very hard, as you saw from its most recent resolution,
which judiciously combines the pressure of going ahead with the planned elections
by next May at the latest, and at the same time, keeping the door open for further
negotiation and dialogue with the DK. I think this is the only way to proceed, combining
carrots with sticks, in a way.
Post: What more can you do to bring the Khmer Rouge back on board with the whole
Akashi: As you know, countries which used to be very friendly to the DK, like
China and Thailand, are trying their best to persuade them to come back to the peace
process. We need their help, we need persistent efforts by the Security Council,
and we need a united attitude on the part of other Cambodian factions. I'm glad three
factions and the president of the SNC, Prince Sihanouk, consistently and fully support
the efforts of UNTAC and on the basis of this kind of good partnership, I'm sure
in the end we'll prevail-the DK has to come into the fold I think.
Post: The Security Council has set a deadline of Nov. 15 for the DK to come on
board. What will you do-what can you do-if that deadline passes with no results?
Akashi: The Security Council asked the Secretary General to prepare a report on
further steps to be taken to resolve this impasse. I cannot answer you as to what
these steps or measures might exactly mean. It may contain a series of diplomatic,
political and economic steps-both within Cambodia and from outside of the country-but
I cannot go beyond that.
Post: How long can the peace process continue without the cooperation of the Khmer
Rouge? I understand that you've now said you're considering freezing the demobilization
of the troops of the three other factions, if the Khmer Rouge continue to not go
along with Phase II.
Akashi: I think, contrary to the original plan of the United Nations-which was
to start the electoral phase after the phase of cantonment and demobilization-these
two phases might run para-llel with each other.
In other words, before completing cantonment and demobilization you have an electoral
process which in effect has already begun with very active, massive registration
of Cambodian voters-I am delighted to see this.
It will not be a perfect election or campaign as was originally envisaged, but I
think it will be as good an electoral process as you have seen in the Asian context
in the past. And we'll be very vigilant-we are launching all kinds of informational
and educational campaigns. I think even within the present difficult environment
the elections will be a firm beginning of democracy in this country.
Post: But will those election go ahead without the participation of the Khmer
Akashi: That's the idea, yes. We only hope that there will not be physical or
military hindrance by anybody to this electoral and democratic process.
Post: If the Khmer Rouge still refuse to go along with the peace process and the
elections take place, how much longer do you think the U.N. will have to maintain
a presence in Cambodia?
Akashi: Even if the DK does not participate in the election for the Constituent Assembly,
it is possible that the Security Council may make special arrangements, by way of
by-election or partial election in the DK-controlled area if they decide to come
into the process at the election stage.
But three months after the elections, the U.N. mandate terminates. Within those three
months a new constitution is to be adopted and a new government will come into being,
so by August or September UNTAC's mandate expires. I don't think the U.N. can sustain
such a large and expensive operation.
But I can detect a very strong prevailing sense from Cambodians that they are anxious
to have some kind of a U.N. presence, so that whatever possible legacy left by UNTAC
will not come to naught.
I'm sure the Security Council will take heed of such a desire and there will be some
U.N. presence, whose character and scope are yet to be determined.
Post: Are you optimistic that peace will finally come to Cambodia?
Akashi: I am basically very optimistic. I think there is no other alternative
than peace. I see deep longing among Cambodian people for peace and respite from
two decades of constant fighting. So I think peace ought to come despite the difficulties.
The mutual distrust and mutual hostility of two decades will not disappear soon,
but we have to continue trying. I would not be here unless I were confident of the
success of our endeavors. We have to be patient and have to be persistent.