`WHAT kind of leaders are they if, after all this suffering, they don't sit down and settle it?'' The quiet query of a Cambodian Buddhist monk in a corridor of the Hotel Indonesia is a poignant epitaph of the failure of the latest round of Cambodian peace talks.
Despite a marathon after-midnight session, the three-day conference ended yesterday without any official statement on a negotiated settlement in the 11-year old Cambodian war.
``Clearly we have lost some momentum,'' Indonesia's Foreign Minister Ali Alatas told reporters afterward.
On the face of it, the conference broke down over the use of the term genocide in the 17-point draft of the final communiqu'e. Cambodian Premier Hun Sen insisted the term be used to describe the killing of more than 1 million people by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge when it was in power from 1975 to '79. Khieu Samphan, the current Khmer Rouge leader, objected. A similar impasse sabotaged results at a Paris conference last year.
But the real reason for the deadlock is that the Khmer Rouge didn't come here to negotiate, longtime observers say. All parties - except the Khmer Rouge - appeared willing to discuss finer points of the Australian plan to install a United Nations administration and peacekeeping force in Cambodia until free elections could be held.
Australia participated in the talks as a ``resource nation,'' bringing a hefty ``red book'' of options. The plan called for a UN staffing role of about 5,500 military troops, 5,000 bureaucrats, and 2,500 police at an annual cost of nearly $1 billion. It would be the biggest operation ever undertaken by the UN - more than twice the cost of the UN's role in Namibia.
The virtue of the UN plan was that it was supposed to sidestep a disagreement over the composition of a transitional power-sharing government between the four Cambodian factions. But the Khmer Rouge, while welcoming a UN role, stuck to two long-held preconditions:
- First, all Vietnamese forces must be verifiably withdrawn. (Khmer Rouge officials handed out a color brochure, maps, and documents claiming some 10,000 Vietnamese troops are still in Cambodia.)
- Second, a provisional quadripartite government must be set up under the leadership of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, head of the resistance coalition.
``If one of them is ignored, the whole peace process would be blocked,'' Mr. Samphan told the conference.
The unbending positions of the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnam-backed Hun Sen government triggered a sharp rebuke from Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans after the meeting.
``God knows, the rest of us have been trying hard enough. I think the obligation is very much on the Cambodian parties to actually demonstrate some good will and good faith and some real, not just cosmetic, commitment to the task of stopping the killing and stopping the tragedy in that country.''
The strategy behind the Khmer Rouge position appears to be that it hopes to gain more leverage at the negotiating table, given the time to obtain some victories on the battlefield. If so, fighting is likely to continue until June when the dry season ends.
``The Khmer Rouge is the bottleneck. The question now is whether it's willing to stand out against the mounting weight of international opinion if the talks resume later this year in Paris,'' says Shafiq Sit Abdulluh of the Malaysian Institute of Strategic and International Studies.
And there is also the question of whether the main patrons of the Khmer Rouge - China, Thailand, and Singapore - can or will effectively pressure the resistance group to negotiate.
In recent meetings, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have endorsed the UN trusteeship plan for Cambodia. The Security Council is due to meet again next week.
``There is still a possibility for forward momentum, particularly if the permanent five picks up and continues to run with this issue in a constructive way,'' says Mr. Evans.