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Troops Put on Alert Before UN Chief Lands in Cambodia

UNITED Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is due in Cambodia April 7 to inspect UN peacekeeping operations at the start of what many say will be a violent election campaign.

The refusal of the Khmer Rouge to respect the terms of the Paris Peace Agreement of 1991 and the escalating violence have raised widespread doubts about the ability of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) to fulfill its task of holding free and fair elections, scheduled for May 23-27.

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In recent weeks ethnic Vietnamese and local villagers have been massacred, political party members assassinated, and peacekeeping soldiers attacked and killed.

As a result the military component of the UN peacekeeping operation was put on alert after attacks by the guerrillas that left four peacekeepers dead and seven wounded, a UN spokesman said April 6.

UN officials have blamed most of the violence on Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

They are widely believed to have killed 1 million of Cambodia's 8 million people by execution, starvation, and disease during their three-year rule which ended in 1978.

The group has opted out of the general elections despite having signed the four-faction Paris peace treaty.

UN officials, diplomats, and opposition officials say the Khmer Rouge is engaged in a nationwide operation to disrupt the campaigning that starts April 7.

Twenty political parties have registered for the election. The start of the campaign will allow each to hold rallies, put up posters, and state its case on television and radio.

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On April 4, Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan made a veiled threat to other opposition groups, warning them that by contesting the election they would be joining "an undertaking of treason."

Mr. Boutros-Ghali last visited Cambodia in April 1992 just after the deployment of UNTAC, then the largest, most costly, and ambitious undertaking of its kind.

The multibillion dollar operation, involving 22,000 personnel, was seen as a crucial test of the UN's will and ability to resolve conflicts left over from the cold war.

Security in Cambodia has become increasingly shaky in recent weeks as UN peacekeepers have come under direct attack.

Now many observers, including UNTAC officials and many Cambodians, are critical of the UN's failure to bring stability to a country that has not known peace for more than 20 years.

Providing a stark illustration of this perceived failure, dozens of local laborers have been working late into the night strengthening security at UNTAC's Phnom Penh headquarters in preparation for Boutros-Ghali's visit.

Diplomats and UNTAC's police component have circulated internal warnings of possible street demonstrations coinciding with Boutros-Ghali's visit.

Front-runners are the Cambodian People's Party, political wing of the incumbent Vietnamese-installed government, and the royalist National United Front for an Independent, Peaceful, Neutral, and Cooperative Cambodia, led by Prince Norodom Rannaridh, son of head of state Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

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