JULY 14, 1997
Cambodia's Hun Sen has lashed out at foreign governments who condemned last week's coup by saying he won't join ASEAN, the Asian trade partnership. In a background report, Charles Krause interviews ousted Prince Ranariddh. A discussion among Cambodia experts and Margaret Warner follows, analyzing what's next for the troubled nation.
MARGARET WARNER: There have been several developments in Cambodia since Charles's interview Friday. Yesterday, Hun Sen urged the Royalist Party to choose someone else to serve as his coalition partner. He also urged human rights organizations and the media to remain active, and he promised that next year's scheduled elections will be free and fair.
A RealAudio version of a panel discussion on Cambodia's future is available.
Online NewsHour links:
June 18, 1997:
A discussion of the continuing unrest in Cambodia and rumors of Pol Pot's capture.
May 16, 1996:
President Clinton announces his plan to limit the use of landmines.
January 4, 1996:
Elizabeth Farnsworth reports on the use of land mines in Cambodia and elsewhere.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of Asia.
The Cambodian Embassy to the U.S.
Cambodia in Modern History: a site produced by those who opposed the Khmer Rouge
Separately, King Sihanouk, Prince Ranariddh's father, sent a message from Beijing congratulating Hun Sen and explicitly declining to call Hun Sen's victory a coup. And today, as reported earlier, Hun Sen lashed out at foreign governments that had criticized his coup. He accused members of the Asian trade partnership, AUSEAN, of meddling in Cambodia's internal affairs.
For more on all this we're joined by Richard Solomon, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Bush administration; he was the point man on Cambodia policy when the 1991 peace deal was brokered. He's now the president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, a research and educational organization in Washington. And Richard Walden, who is founder and president of Operation USA, a non-governmental humanitarian group that has worked in Cambodia since 1979. He was last there two weeks ago.
And Richard Walden, I know you've been talking to people on the ground there. Give us a brief update on the situation there--fighting, killings, et cetera.
RICHARD WALDEN, Operation USA: Well, so far, luckily, casualties are relatively light. There is no excuse for violence of any kind against anyone, but this is not a wave of mass killings, and we hope it doesn't become that on either side of the equation. A lot of the NGO's or non-governmental organizations, have pulled staff out of the rural areas.
The ones that are U.S. government-funded were basically ordered by our government to evacuate their staff completely from the country. The other groups that are not dependent on U.S. government funds are staying in the capital of Phnom Penh and waiting to see when it's safe to get back to their programs, which are, after all, the main focus of our work.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Richard Solomon, let's go back to the beginning here. What triggered this complete breakdown and this power sharing arrangement?
RICHARD SOLOMON, Former State Department Official: Well, after the very successful elections of 1993, Hun Sen was not prepared to accept the fact that he had come in No. 2. Indeed, he keeps telling himself that he was cheated out of the results of that election. And ever since that time he and his party--the Cambodian People's Party--have used intimidation, some assassinations, use of force, for its threat to prevent an effective free press from fully organizing and opposition parties from developing a mass base, so that he's tried in that to limit the emergence of an effective opposition.
MARGARET WARNER: But what triggered him actually seizing power?
RICHARD SOLOMON: I think the anticipation of the elections next year--and we have seen now for some months the build-up of, in a sense, private militias associated with the factional armies. Ranariddh was sort of put in a position where he was trying to build up his forces to keep up with Hun Sen, and so you're at an escalation, and Hun Sen seems to have struck early to prevent an effective military force from countervailing his own power.
MARGARET WARNER: Richard Walden, do you agree with that assessment? It doesn't sound as if there was much of a power sharing if so.
RICHARD WALDEN: No. I'm one of the people who does not agree that the U.N. elections, which the U.S. taxpayer paid $600 million out of the $2 billion bill, were done in any fashion that was sustainable for the people of Cambodia. They did not get the Khmer Rouge to participate; they did not get a serious commitment from anybody to accept the election results.
And what you had was a narrow victory by the Royalist Party, and then Hun Sen's refusal to accept it, and the king, who had newly been enthroned as king, said, fine, let's have two prime ministers. A lot of those things were not foreseen in the Paris talks, and I think you had a set piece, and each ministry in that government has had two lines of authority since they were set up. So it's been an impossible situation, even in the benign ministries like health and agriculture, to find where your authority comes from. It's not a good situation. I also disagree with Mr. Solomon's characterization of the activity. He leaves out the fact that the Ranariddh faction was negotiating with the Khmer Rouge and may or may not--we don't know yet--have introduced some Khmer Rouge fighters into their own militia's ranks, thereby provoking a somewhat paranoid reaction on the other side, which has led to this latest round in Cambodia.
RICHARD SOLOMON: But the other side of the argument is Hun Sen, himself, who had been dealing with the Khmer Rouge, there had been the negotiations with Ing Sarih last October, and--
MARGARET WARNER: Who is?
RICHARD SOLOMON: Ing Sarih was one of the factional leaders in the Khmer Rouge, so both sides were dealing with the Khmer Rouge. The one thing that was--the two things that really came out of the election that were effective--one is that the Cambodian people had a dramatic opportunity which they seized 90 percent of the eligible voters to express their will, and they expressed their will in a kind of semi-organized fashion for peace, stability, and to get on with economic development.
The other thing that happened was the Khmer Rouge did isolate itself, and it has turned in on itself, and the question is whether the snake will now be buried. Your other commentator is quite right; that the follow-through on the elections and the building of an effective political structure was not carried out effectively.
MARGARET WARNER: And why was that?
RICHARD SOLOMON: You're always caught between the balance of letting the people who were a sovereign country manage their own affairs, versus outside pressure. And in this case up until today, almost 60 percent of the Cambodian government budget is foreign assistance, so they are still quite dependent on and need to have foreign involvement, but they, of course, want to play their politics by themselves.
MARGARET WARNER: Richard Walden, do you think the international community could and should have done something to prevent this? Was it in their power?
RICHARD WALDEN: It was hard preventing it, because even perhaps a majority, perhaps short of a majority of Prince Ranariddh's own party feel he's been an incompetent leader. So there's been a lot of strife within that one faction. It would have been very difficult. I saw the American ambassador in Cambodia two weeks ago. I don't agree with Prince Ranariddh's characterization that he somehow had advanced warning that this was going to take place.
Was there an inevitable breakdown of lines of authority? Absolutely. I think we should take Hun Sen at his word that he's going to go through with the May elections. I think we should admonish him about trying to halt the violence if he has full control over his side of the equation. I also think we should take him at his word about letting the press go back, letting the newspapers reopen, and participating in election, only this time since we've had the benefit of the U.N. elections now, let's see if we can come to some sort of agreement. And it's not an American decision; it's an Asian decision.
RICHARD SOLOMON: I strongly disagree with that. I think that it would be extremely dangerous for us to rely on Hun Sen's word. While he's saying the right words publicly, privately, they're assassinating opposition leaders and using force. I think this is a situation where the international community, the AUSEAN countries have a strong interest not in supporting one leader or another but reconstituting the political process that came out of the U.N. Settlement.
And I think the most urgent need is to reconvene the Paris conference. The international community has a tremendous investment in seeing that this play itself out right, and bringing the pressure of the international community to bear to re-establish the political process.
MARGARET WARNER: But are you saying that you think the U.S. and the international community should do what Prince Ranariddh wants, which is essentially use pressure to bring him back to power?
RICHARD SOLOMON: I think there should be a negotiation with the outside countries expressing their support. I think Prince Ranariddh should be involved in that process. Let's see what comes out of it. King Sihanouk has a major role to play as a source of authority in this country.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you something, Richard Walden. You both know both these men. Are their differences ideological? Do they have different visions of the country? Or is this just about power?
RICHARD WALDEN: This is about ego and power, after all. Most politics is about that. It is not a matter of Hun Sen being once until the age of 25 a member of the Khmer Rouge. It was then Prince Sihanouk who called on all Cambodians in 1970 to join the Khmer Rouge. So he's been sort of unfairly tarred with that. It should also be remembered that Prince Ranariddh was allied with the Khmer Rouge for 12 years fighting the government of Hun Sen and its Vietnamese backers. So you've got a lot of bad blood; you've got a lot of water over the dam.
I'm not saying you don't do anything, but as a humanitarian agency, I don't want to have any part in withholding humanitarian aid or economic development aid to orphanages and rural poor people because of some struggle going on that fortunately, as of yet, has not resulted in the kind of mass bloodshed we saw in Bosnia and elsewhere. Do we want it to happen? We don't want any more violence in that country from any side, but I think we have to be aware of who suffers when we start playing these games and monkeying around with the economies of these countries that are feeble enough as it is.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree that this is really just about power?
RICHARD SOLOMON: Of course, it's about power, but, again, what we've tried to do through the U.N. settlement process is create a process not to support any one given leader and if Hun Sen is able to subvert this through the use of force, then the credibility of all U.N. peace efforts, whether it's Bosnia or elsewhere, is called into question.
MARGARET WARNER: And what about what would happen in Cambodia? Prince Ranariddh seemed to be suggesting there might be another civil war, but he didn't look like he was ready to lead it.
RICHARD SOLOMON: I think the short answer is Hun Sen wants us to accept the fact that this has happened and everything is under control. I don't believe that's the case. And he is extremely vulnerable to the pressure and the expression of concern by the international community. We've seen that already from AUSEAN. I think the various members of the United Nations now have an opportunity to reconvene the Paris conference.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Richard Walden, briefly, your prognosis?
RICHARD WALDEN: I worry about what happens when King Sihanouk dies of cancer because if there was ever a time for him to get on an airplane in Beijing and go back to his country, this was it. The fact that he's not able to--and he's not in any danger from the Hun Sen side--or his son's side--is a big problem for me, and I think if something happens, unfortunately, to him during the process and the run up to the election, then all bets are off in terms of how it's going to turn out.
MARGARET WARNER: Including the prospect of civil war?
RICHARD WALDEN: Well, I don't think anybody's going to support this, a civil war per se, on the outside. I sure hope not.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Well, thank you both very much.