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Cambodian conflict moves to Paris peace table, round two

To pave the way for an end to Cambodia's nine-year guerrilla war, the commmunist government must offer major concessions to Prince Norodom Sihanouk at talks beginning today in France, diplomats and Asia specialists say. Prince Sihanouk has set two specific conditions: a Vietnamese troop withdrawal and a noncommunist government in Phnom Penh.

``I will never concede the following points - the total and definitive departure of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia according to a precise schedule, the demolition of the PRK [the Phnom Penh government], and its true and definitive replacement by the state of Cambodia, a noncommunist, nonsocialist, French-style democratic state,'' the resistance leader said in a recent message to son, who heads Sihanouk's office here.

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Cambodian Prime Minister ``Hun Sen has to produce something,'' says a Western diplomat. ``The first meeting [in January] was significant just because it happened. This time he has to offer something more substantive.''

Sihanouk and Hun Sen met in France for three days in December. This marked the first talks between opposing sides since Vietnam invaded the country in 1978. The two leaders agreed on general principles for a settlement but did not address the withdrawal issue.

Since that meeting, Sihanouk has changed plans for the second round of talks four times. Cambodian sources close to Sihanouk say he was sending a warning to Hun Sen and the Vietnamese to bring concrete proposals to the next round of talks as well as pressing the Khmer Rouge, his allies in a resistance coalition, and their Chinese backers to compromise on seeking a peace settlement.

Speculation among diplomats and Asia specialists about the second round of talks is mixed.

The State Department's top Asian Affairs official expressed cautious optimism here Monday. ``I think there are signs of movement,'' Assistant Secretary of State Gaston Sigur said after two days of talks with Thai leaders. ``There are signs that perhaps the Vietnamese themselves are getting tired of the situation.''

A member of Vietnam's National Assembly visiting Bangkok this week admitted that Hanoi's continuing occupation of Cambodia is a ``costly proposition.''

``It has drained our finances to the extent that we would like to withdraw if possible,'' said Nguyen Xuan Oanh, an economic adviser to Vietnam's communist leadership and a vice premier under the former South Vietnamese government.

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But diplomats from the noncommunist countries of Southeast Asia are skeptical. ``At the moment, I don't get the feeling that they are willing to make concessions,'' one Southeast Asian diplomat said. ``Their agreement to talk is tactical. They want to get legitimacy for the Hun Sen regime.''

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