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Keeping the Khmer Rouge in Line

THE Khmer Rouge could be counted on to throw a few roadblocks in front of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Cambodia. Recently the radical faction, known for its murderous administration of the country in the late 1970s, refused to join in the second phase of the UN plan, which requires the disarming of competing armies.

Khmer Rouge officials said they would not comply with the plan until assured that all Vietnamese soldiers had left Cambodia. This is a familiar refrain, playing on Cambodia's traditional fear of its larger neighbor.

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In fact, international observers support Hanoi's assertion that its troops, which drove the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979, were pulled out in 1989. The Khmer Rouge says many Vietnamese remain, disguised as civilians, a claim that's very difficult to assess.

The Khmer Rouge may be trying to gain some added time to strengthen its hold on sections of the countryside and thus enhance its chances in next year's UN-administered elections. It may also be maneuvering for a stronger hand in Cambodia's interim government and in the distribution of international aid.

But such tactics will fail. The head of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia, Yashushi Akashi, has made it clear that areas under Khmer Rouge control simply won't get any of the $880 million in aid recently pledged at a conference in Tokyo unless the guerrillas abide by the peace agreement.

The option of continued combat is just as pointless: The Khmer Rouge's chief patron - China - has stopped shipping arms and demands compliance with the peace pact.

Ironically, the peace process gives all factions a role in Cambodia's future. Participation in the elections could confer legitimacy - if that's possible - even on the bloodstained Khmer Rouge.

And the Khmer Rouge may have some potent political issues - notably the gap between relatively well-off city-dwellers and the impoverished rural majority. But it's not likely that most Cambodians, having tasted Khmer Rouge methods of government, would want a second helping.

The Khmer Rouge may sense it has no future in a democratic Cambodia. Diplomatic and political pressures must therefore be diligently applied to make sure it sticks with the peace plan. It can't be allowed to wriggle out and again endanger the country and the region.

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If the Khmer Rouge tries to thwart the plan, it will also thwart its own slim chance of legitimate political participation.

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