A steep price for peace

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 1996, 12:00am

Ieng Sary, leader of a breakaway Khmer Rouge faction, is asking Cambodians to forgive and forget. At a news conference yesterday, he tried to absolve himself of the deaths of more than two million of his compatriots during the Khmer Rouge's reign between 1975 and 1979. Not a single soul in Cambodia would believe him. Nor anyone, who has family members killed in the genocide, would forgive him.

However, the Cambodian government should consider seriously his quest for amnesty. That is the steep price Cambodians must pay for peace and the welfare of their children. Failing a reconciliation, there would be less hope for the quarter-century civil war to end. Ieng Sary has agreed to a cease-fire with the Phnom Penh government. His commanders and troops are even fighting in arms with government forces to recapture a village overrun by Khmer Rouge militiamen loyal to Pol Pot. Ieng Sary, Pol Pot's brother-in-law and former foreign minister in the Khmer Rouge regime, was unequivocal when he said peace would be short-lived if there was no royal pardon. He was convicted and sentenced to death in absentia for genocide along with Pol Pot during a show trial in 1979.

Bringing Ieng Sary on board would substantially debilitate Pol Pot, making lasting peace possible for the first time. In the long run, the joint government-Ieng Sary forces may be able to annihilate Pol Pot's troops and usher in a new era to the plight-stricken Cambodia. Ieng Sary, with so much blood in his hands, should not - in the wildest of his dreams - think of playing a role in the Phnom Penh administration.

It would do him, his followers and the suffering Cambodian people a great service if he went into exile to Bangkok or Paris. Cambodians would not forgive and forget, but they may be prepared to pay a bitter price for peace.