The Cambodian endgame has entered a new and critical stage. The regime installed in Phnom Penh by Vietnam eleven years ago-the People's Republic of Kampuchea-continues to hold sway over the major cities and most of the countryside. But with the withdrawal of Vietnamese combat forces in September 1989, its capacity to counter the Khmer Rouge remains in serious doubt, and it is entirely possible that Pol Pot could battle his way back to power in Phnom Penh.1
Continued fighting in Cambodia serves the interests of the Khmer Rouge. Sustained by a mixture of intimidation and indoctrination, as well as Chinese support and Thai sanctuary, the Khmer Rouge is once again a fanatical and formidable force. It has given up neither its goal of regaining power by whatever means necessary nor its xenophobic brand of communism. The best way to prevent the Khmer Rouge from returning to power is to shift the conflict from the battlefield to the ballot box.
Clearly, the best outcome for Cambodia would be a comprehensive political settlement that demilitarized the internal struggle, neutralized Cambodia as an arena for superpower and regional rivalry, and gave the Khmer people an opportunity for free and fair elections. In the last three years there has been a variety of efforts to produce such a settlement. All have failed, however, largely because the formulas put forward have been more unacceptable to the parties concerned than a continuation of the conflict itself.
In the absence of a settlement the most that Cambodia can hope for is to become a kind of Southeast Asian Lebanon, condemned to continuous civil strife and economic deprivation. In a worst-case scenario Cambodia could even witness a resumption of the Killing Fields should Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge return to power.
In response to the diplomatic deadlock and deteriorating military situation, the Australian foreign minister, Gareth Evans, has launched a new initiative designed to end the fighting and give the Cambodian people an opportunity to determine their own destiny.
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