Cambodia on trial

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 September, 1997, 12:00am

When the UN credentials committee decided to leave Cambodia's seat vacant during the 52nd session of the General Assembly, they must have recognised that postponing the problem would not make it go away, even temporarily.

Instead, it gave Second Prime Minister Hun Sen an excuse to fly to New York to lobby members, claiming the action is an insult to King Norodom Sihanouk, and using it to trot out the familiar line about interference in the country's internal affairs.

Under the circumstances in which he ousted his rival, Cambodia's democratically elected First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and in view of his own history as a top official in the Pol Pot regime, Mr Hun Sen certainly has no legitimate claim to the seat. He seized his position by force after the 1993 elections and retained it by a coup.

Although the United States still recognises Prince Ranariddh as Cambodia's First Prime Minister, there have been signals that the international community is prepared to take a pragmatic approach, believing the need for strong government outweighs all other considerations at such a critical time. So the position of Prince Ranariddh appears increasingly isolated.

The disastrous coalition never looked likely to work, and certainly cannot be resumed. Mr Hun Sen's letter of accreditation may have been signed by King Sihanouk under duress, as Prince Ranariddh claims, or perhaps the king, too, is prepared to bow to the apparently inevitable.

Mr Hun Sen has no respect for democracy, and if there is indeed a belief that he can be controlled under the auspices of the United Nations, the only way to achieve it is to keep him out of the General Assembly, not just for this session, but until he has given proof that he can mend his ways.