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Country Study By Russell R. RossPosted: 2009-09-24 09:46:37   Replies: 0
Khmer History (72)

The Search for Peace

The most intractable foreign policy question facing the rival Cambodian regimes in the 1980s was that of how to establish an independent, neutral, and nonaligned Cambodia under a set of terms agreeable to all those, both at home and abroad, who were interested. Despite differing perceptions of potential gains and losses, all parties to the Cambodian dispute were striving for reconciliation. This was a positive sign, especially because in 1979 and in 1980, no one, except perhaps Sihanouk, believed that reconciliation was possible.

In the first two years of the Cambodian crisis, the rival Cambodian regimes had different priorities. The Heng Samrin regime's overriding concern was to consolidate its political and its territorial gains, while relying on the Vietnamese to take the lead in foreign affairs and in national security. The political price of this external dependence was high because it contributed to Phnom Penh's image as a Vietnamese puppet. Vietnam also paid a price for its assertion that it had intervened only "at the invitation" of Heng Samrin "to defend the gains of the revolution they have won...at a time when the Beijing expansionists are colluding with the United States." Phnom Penh and Hanoi also asserted speciously that political turmoil inside Cambodia constituted a civil war and was, therefore, of no concern to outsiders. Vietnam's attempts to shield the Cambodian crisis from external scrutiny led its noncommunist neighbors to suspect that Hanoi was finally moving to fulfill its historical ambition of dominating all of Indochina.

Anti-Heng Samrin resistance groups pursued an opposite course. Their strategy was to internationalize the Cambodian question--with political support from China and from the ASEAN nations--as a case of unprovoked Vietnamese aggression, in order to put pressure on Vietnam and to undermine the legitimacy of the Heng Samrin administration. At the same time, the resistance groups sought to destabilize the Heng Samrin regime by challenging the Vietnamese occupation forces. The regime in Phnom Penh, with support from Vietnam and from the Soviet Union, nevertheless continued to consolidate its gains.

In 1981 the rival camps pressed on with their confrontational tactics. The anti-Vietnamese resistance factions, despite their long-standing, internal feuds, began to negotiate among themselves for unity against their common enemy. On the diplomatic front, they worked closely with ASEAN to convene the UN-sponsored International Conference on Kampuchea, which took place from July 13 to July 17, 1981, in New York. The conference, attended by representatives from seventy-nine countries and by observers from fifteen countries, adopted a declaration of principles for settling the Cambodian crisis. The central elements of the declaration were those contained in the UN General Assembly resolution of 1979 and in the proposals for Cambodian peace announced by the ASEAN countries in October 1980. The declaration called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces in the shortest possible time under the supervision and the verification of a UN peacekeeping-observer group; for arrangements to ensure that armed Cambodian factions would not prevent or disrupt free elections; for measures to maintain law and order during the interim before free elections could be held and a new government established; for free elections under UN auspices; for the continuation of Cambodia's status as a neutral and nonaligned state; and for a declaration by the future elected government that Cambodia would not pose a threat to other countries, especially to neighboring states. The declaration also called on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States) and on all other states to pledge to respect Cambodia's independence, its territorial integrity, and its neutral status and to declare that they would neither draw Cambodia into any military alliance, nor introduce foreign troops into the country, nor establish any military bases there. The declaration's principles were reaffirmed in successive UN General Assembly resolutions, and they formed the basis of the ASEAN-sponsored framework for resolving the Cambodian question in the 1980s.

Since 1979 the ASEAN countries have played a significant role on behalf of the Cambodian resistance factions. Individually and collectively, through the annual conferences of their foreign ministers, these countries consistently have stressed the importance of Vietnam's withdrawal as a precondition for a comprehensive political settlement of the Cambodian question. They have rejected all moves by Hanoi and Phnom Penh that were aimed at legitimizing the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia and the Heng Samrin regime. Together with China, they also were architects of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea.

Phnom Penh's principal foreign policy spokesman has been Vietnam, and its major diplomatic moves have been coordinated by and proclaimed by the annual conference of foreign ministers of the three Indochinese states meeting consecutively in Hanoi (or Ho Chi Minh City), in Phnom Penh, and in Vientiane. Hanoi's position on Cambodia has been that the "so-called Kampuchean problem is but the consequence of Chinese expansionism and hegemonism," that Vietnam's military presence in Cambodia was defensive because it was meeting the Chinese threat to Cambodia and to Vietnam, and that Hanoi would withdraw from Cambodia when the Chinese threat no longer existed.

Thailand's stance on the Cambodian issue has been of particular concern to Phnom Penh and to Hanoi. ASEAN initially maintained the position that Thailand was not a party to the Cambodian conflict but an "affected bystander" entitled to adopt a policy of neutrality. Hanoi and Phnom Penh denounced that posture as "sham neutrality" and accused Thailand of colluding with China; they alleged that Thailand allowed shipment of Chinese arms through its territory to the "remnants of [the] Pol Pot-Ieng Sary clique," which was operating inside the Thai border. They also claimed that Bangkok sheltered and armed Pol Pot's guerrillas and other Cambodian "reactionaries."

Nevertheless, the Heng Samrin regime made friendly overtures to Bangkok. In June 1980, for example, it proposed a meeting to discuss resuming "normal relations" and turning their common border into "a border of friendship and peace." The Heng Samrin regime stated that its primary concern was the elimination of "all hostile acts" between the two countries and that it was willing to forget the past and "all the provocations launched by Thailand against Cambodia." Thailand replied that talks with the Heng Samrin regime would solve nothing. Besides, Thai officials said, such talks would lend an inappropriate appearance of recognition to the Phnom Penh regime. They also stressed that Vietnam had to withdraw from Cambodia before constructive talks could take place.

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