Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Political solution to KR problem "dim"

Political solution to KR problem "dim"

Political solution to KR problem "dim"

C ambodia's hopes for peace were dashed when the Khmer Rouge withdrew from the

UNTAC elections. Academic Stephen Heder, in the last issue, concluded the

rebels had been serious about the elections, before they pulled out. Here, he

argues that their reasons for doing so were less than noble.


Partie of Democratic Kampuchea (PDK) hoped that it could use the Paris

Agreements as an opportunity to expand its control over rural Cambodians by

dismantling the local State of Cambodia (SOC) political administration and

creating what it called village and sub-district Supreme National Councils (SNC)

after the national level body which the Paris Agreements defined as "the unique

legitimate body and source of authority" in Cambodia.

This was the key

part of the PDK's more general hope that the Paris Agreements would make it

possible for it to launch a pincer attack in which SOC would also be controlled

and neutralized from above via the United Nations. The PDK viewed both the

continued undermining of SOC from below and neutralization of it from above as

necessary conditions for achieving an implementation of the Paris Agreements

that was in accordance with its interests.

The testimonies of National

Army of Democratic Kampuchea (NADK) "self-demobilizers" - those who quit its

ranks to "rally" to UNTAC or SOC - are very clear that although NADK units were

ordered not to launch military operations against the SOC armed forces, they

were also ordered to engage in activities to dissolve  SOC local administrations

and set up PDK controlled local National Councils. Although not all NADK cadre

and combatants realized this, such activities contravened the prohibitions in

cease-fire laid down in the Paris Agreements that they refrain from "any

deployment, movement or action that would extend the territory they control or

that might lead to a resumption of the fighting." Self-demobilizers typically

reported that when they ceased offensive military action, they intensified

subversive political activity. They said this included efforts to propagandize

and agitate peasants in contested and SOC administered zones into dissolving

existing grass-roots political administrations and replacing them with

PDK-controlled local national Councils. Moreover, the self-demobilizers reported

that in at least some instances, the NADK elements involved in such "political

work" were armed.

It seems clear that pro-active NADK efforts at

propaganda work, and particularly armed propaganda work, in SOC-administered

areas led to confrontations between NADK and SOC armed forces. Self-demobilizers

describe incidents in which NADK elements who entered SOC-administered or

contested villages were greeted with gunfire or found themselves detained. Their

accounts suggest that many - although not all - of the cease-fire violations

which they complained were committed by SOC against the NADK took place in

reaction to such NADK activities in violation of the Paris


The PDK's intention to undermine the Paris Agreements is this

manner is confirmed not only by its public radio broadcasts, but also by key

internal documents. For example, according to a secret speech by Pol Pot in

December 1991, the PDK launched "a strategic offensive in the countryside... to

make breakthroughs in dissolving the village and sub-district political

administrations... [of] the contemptible puppets both militarily and

politically. His speech called for doubling the number of villages under PDK

control between February and March 1992. Or, as a PDK directive of February 1992

put it:

There must be no let-up in consecutive storming break-through

attacks. Carry out storming attacks in accordance with the slogan that the right

hand carries out break-through attacks militarily and politically, adopting

politics as the basis, in particular to eliminate, disperse and dissolve the

village political administration of the contemptible Yuon [Vietnamese] enemy...

Only by dissolving the village political administration of the contemptible Yuon

enemy . . . can we consolidate and expand liberated villages, consolidate and

expand village and sub-district National Councils, consolidate and expand our

popular strength, . . . etc., which is to say, consolidate and expand our

strength in domain after domain and make the contemptible Yuon enemy and its

lackeys disappear and disintegrate in domain after domain.

Using Demobilization to Project PDK Power

Moreover, a close

examination of other evidence suggests that contained within the PDK's readiness

to demobilize the NADK was an intent to use the demobilization process to

project the PDK's political power. NADK documents presented to UNTAC showed that

the PDK planned to use regoupment in preparation for demobilization to

concentrate increased numbers of troops in the most advanced parts of the

PDK-administered zones. This aimed at creating opportunities for strengthening

PDK power in these areas and the potential for bringing pressure to bear on

adjacent SOC administered zones.

Demobilization in Form Only: The PDK "Civil Police"


from NADK self-demobilizers suggested an even more significant way in which the

PDK planned to appear to comply with the demobilization process while in fact

subverting it, and this evidence appears to be corroborated by official PDK

information. Self-demobilizers described plans by NADK units to fiddle

demobilization through the creation of new "police forces" either armed with

weapons taken from combatants or manned by combatants transferred from regular

units, or both. In documents presented to UNTAC, the PDK claimed to have a grand

total of 9,435 "civil police", all of which answered to the High Command of the

NADK via its subordinate divisions and independent regiments. This number was 37

per cent of the strength claimed for the NADK regular armed forces as a whole,

and 58 per cent of what the PDK said was the armed strength of the NADK regular

army. The evidence indicates that in fact these forces mostly did no yet exist

at the time of the Paris Agreements. Before the Agreements, official PDK

material and accounts by independent observers demonstrate that the NADK had for

many years had a military police auxiliary, they do not suggest that the size of

such forces was anything like what the PDK was now claiming or provide any

evidence of the existence of a significant "civil police" structure." It seems

that the PDK plan was to move some of the best NADK cadre and combatants out of

the "army" into the "police" in order to keep them under arms. The PDK "civil

police" were to be composed of select NADK cadre and combatants whose

battlefield feats recommended them as politically reliable and otherwise likely

to respond well to instructions from above. NADK cadre apparently hoped to be

able to engage in a sleight of hand through which NADK elements would either

jumps to the police before demobilization, or would join it afterwards. Thus,

although the NADK would be "demobilized", the PDK would maintain an armed force

capable of engaging in much more than simple policing activities. In short, it

hoped that while appearing to demobilize the NADK in form, it could maintain

much of it in substance.

Thwarting PDK plans

The PDK's hopes that it could overthrow SOC

from below, and idle demobilization of the NADK so as to maintain a substantial

armed force, were blocked or threatened in the period immediately after the

signing of the Paris Agreements. A key role here was played by Prince Sihanouk

and by the political organization he had founded, FUNCINPEC.

During the

month after the signing of the Paris Agreements, the PDK was faced with Prince

Sihanouk's call for its leadership to be tried for genocide; his declaration

that SOC should be considered the de facto government of Cambodia; his appeal

that SOC should be provided with direct economic aid, his endorsement of an

alliance between FUNCINPEC and SOC's political party, the Cambodian People's

Party (CPP); his endorsement of the formation of a bipartite CPP-FUNCINPEC

coalition government of SOC; and his announcement that he considered Vietnam

Cambodia's friend, that there were no Vietnamese troops in Cambodia, and that

Vietnamese residents of Cambodia should be protected, not expelled. The PDK's

attempts to promote local National Councils were ignored by Prince Sihanouk, and

its efforts to take advantage of his presence to organize new forms of public

political activity were met by SOC repression. It appeared that Prince Sihanouk,

the CPP and FUNCINPEC were working toward an arrangement by which the flow of

rehabilitation and reconstruction aid into the country would be facilitated by a

power-sharing arrangement in which FUNCINPEC officials would be responsible for

the administration of the aid. SOC would benefit in general, and FUNCINPEC in

particular, from such a deal, which would not only isolate the PDK politically,

but also, in theory at least, undermine its social appeal by offering the

population economic recovery and social services in advance of elections. All

these moves showed that the PDK's hopes of destroying SOC from below by rallying

the population behind local organs of political administration ostensibly

answering to Prince Sihanouk but in fact dominated by it were futile. Then, at a

meeting of the SNC on 26 January 1992 attended by the newly-appointed future

UNTAC head Yasushi Akashi, Prince Sihanouk dealt the final blow to the PDK's

hopes of obtaining his legitimization for the establishment of local National

Councils. He declared that the PDK had no right to set up local councils or

otherwise extend its territorial control. This was agreed by FUNCINPEC and Son

Sann's Khmer People's National Liberation Front, and loudly applauded by SOC. As

FUNCINPEC President Prince Norodom Ranariddh put it, Prince Sihanouk "made it

very clear" that "establishment of the SNCs at the village level . . . . should

not be done" because the "peace accord prohibits any territorial expansion."

Prince Sihanouk also declared that the PDK had no right to fly the SNC flag in

territory under its control. He thus signaled his rejection of any PDK argument

that its administration was an SNC administration rather than a PDK "existing

administrative structure".

As for PDK plans to maintain the NADK by

rechristening it a police force, the UN survey team which reviewed the PDK

figures in late 1991 concluded that this would create "an imbalance of police

power" between it and SOC. The team characterized the PDK police as a "para

military force", and recommended it be partially demobilized to bring its

strength down to a level where the imbalance would be corrected. In his plan for

the implementation of the Paris Agreements, UN Secretary General Boutros

Boutros-Ghali indicated skepticism and concern about the information provided by

the PDK about its "civil police" forces. Endorsing the survey team's

conclusions, he called for the PDK police to be cut down to about 5,000


Thus, even before UNTAC arrived in Cambodia, the PDK's hopes that it

could take advantage of the Paris Agreements to overthrow SOC from below and

maintain its armed forces in another guise had been severely undermined. Its

only hope was that UNTAC would overrule Prince Sihanouk and contradict the

Secretary General on such key issues. Of course, UNTAC did not. UNTAC also

followed Prince Sihanouk's lead in challenging or ignoring the PDK's views on

other key issues, especially the alleged presence of "Vietnamese aggressor

forces" in Cambodia and the ways and means of receiving and distributing

international aid for the economic rehabilitation and reconstruction of


Together, all this helps explain why the PDK eventually refused

to participate in the demobilization and electoral processes set forth in the

Paris Agreements, and instead gradually resumed full-fledged guerrilla warfare

against SOC and attempted violently to prevent the elections. However, the key

factors in the PDK's decision were that it was unable to use the Paris

Agreements as a cover for the overthrow of its enemy's political administration

in the countryside and for the maintenance of a substantial military force under

its control.

Implications for the Present

I would like to end this analysis

by drawing out implications of these conclusions from the recent history of the

PDK for the current situation in Cambodia. These conclusions suggest that any

negotiations which Democratic Kampuchea may in the future conduct with King

Sihanouk or any authorities of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) will aim

at achieving an agreement that will allow it to substantially change the balance

of power in the countryside in its favor and to continue to have the option of

using military means to do so. In the absence of such an agreement, the

Democratic Kampuchea will simply continue to fight. And if such agreement is

reached, but implementation does not proceed in accordance with Democratic

Kampuchea hopes, it will once again resume fighting. Thus, prospects for any

workable "political settlement" of the problems posed by Democratic Kampuchea's

armed opposition to the RGC are dim.


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