Norodom Sihanouk

Pol Pot's legacy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 July, 1997, 12:00am

As if enough blood had not been shed in that tormented country, Cambodia is once more poised on the brink of civil war. Far from laying an evil ghost to rest, the break-up of the Khmer Rouge and the fall from power of its tyrannical leader Pol Pot, has plunged the country back into chaos.

Unless King Norodom Sihanouk can persuade the warring prime ministers to accept his call for peace talks, or the major powers can exert influence, Cambodia will again be locked in an internal conflict.

For six years, an extremely fragile peace has given Cambodians a glimpse of what life could be like if genuine stability was restored. Soon to become a member of ASEAN, the country seemed poised to share in the prosperity enjoyed by the rest of south Asia.

Instead, yesterday's events suggest that the nation's inescapable destiny is to tread a path of relentless self-destruction which no-one seems able to prevent. The unnatural alliance between the two rival prime ministers, Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, is the most potent illustration of why past wounds cannot heal, but it is by no means the only one.

Their power sharing was the result of yet another failure of will in the United Nations. UN supervised elections in 1993 gave power to Prince Norodom's Funcinpec party, but Hun Sen, who had governed Cambodia during the 1980s with the backing of Vietnam, still controlled the administration and security. He refused to accept the result and it was King Norodom Sihanouk who persuaded his son and his Hanoi-backed former communist opponent to form a coalition. That unsatisfactory arrangement was applied to every ministry and every province, and led to more bitter in-fighting and power struggles.

It is hard to see any hope of lasting peace unless the sinister influence of the Khmer Rouge can be permanently banished from the country. Even in tatters, its potential for harm is undiminished. There might have been a different outcome if, at the first sign of a break-up, Pol Pot's second-in-command, Ieng Sary, had been arrested instead of welcomed into the fold. The signs were there that the guerilla force was near its end. That was the opportunity to bring tyrants to justice, and no other course should have been considered. The actions of the Khmer Rouge are no internal matter. They are infamous crimes against humanity and must be judged by the international community. Tragically, it appears that more will die before that end can be achieved.