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Finding a solution for Southeast Asia

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THE agony of Cambodia (Kampuchea) continues. Once again, the United States must consider to what extent we should become involved in finding a solution to the problems of Indochina. With the painful memories of Vietnam still in mind, Congress has just authorized assistance to noncommunist resistance movements opposing the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.

Our aid will provide up to $5 million in 1986 to the guerrilla forces of Prince Norodom Sihanouk and former Cambodian Prime Minister Son Sann, the leader of the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF). There is also the prospect of supplying more financial aid in future years. To date, only ``military assistance'' and ``economic support'' have been specified, but weapons could also be provided.

The idea of aid to the noncommunist resistance has received bipartisan approval in Congress. The United States cannot be indifferent to the fate of Cambodia. We should be part of the international effort to help those Cambodians who are willing to risk their lives for a free Cambodia.

At the same time, it would be a mistake for the United States to preempt the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Brunei -- or to allow world opinion to incorrectly conclude that the United States is once again shouldering the main burden in Indochina. ASEAN and the Cambodians themselves should bear the prime responsibility for this movement for freedom.

The United States role in Cambodia must continue to be inferior to ASEAN's. United States policy to date has been to provide moral, political, and humanitarian aid to the noncommunists. This policy has been successful because it has been supportive of ASEAN's prime role. The ASEAN countries are the architects of the Cambodia strategy, and they should continue to bear the responsibility for implementing it.

Whatever form our aid takes, we should admit that provision of assistance represents a major change in US policy in Southeast Asia. These implications should be clearly understood by the American public.

The United States must proceed carefully and in full awareness of history and age-old rivalries of this region. The resistance forces and ASEAN are in for a long, tough fight. Vietnam has for centuries sought the creation of a vassal state in Cambodia.

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