Cambodian peace moves raise hopes - and many questions. Key players - China and Khmer Rouge - have yet to respond
The unexpected agreement reached last week between Cambodia's Prince Sihanouk and his country's current communist prime minister had all the appearances of a diplomatic breakthrough in the nine-year Cambodian conflict. But Prince Sihanouk's allies in Southeast Asia are feeling uneasy.
Whether the hugs and champagne toasts at the end of the three days of talks signal real movement toward peace in Cambodia (or Kampuchea) depends on the response of other parties to the conflict - Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge, and China - who did not take part in the negotiations, diplomats and analysts here say. Regional diplomats are also concerned that Sihanouk may have gone out on his own without the backing of his coalition allies.
The four-point statement signed at the end of the talks, held outside Paris, agreed that:
The conflict should be solved politically, not militarily.
The Cambodian problem must be settled by the Cambodian people through negotiations between all parties to the conflict.
An international conference should ratify any agreement.
A second round of talks between Prince Sihanouk and Prime Minister Hun Sen of the Vietnam-backed Cambodian government should be held in France in January.
``We have attained concrete results, the door is open,'' Sihanouk said, ``but there is still quite a way to go before reaching our goal.''
Vietnam, which invaded Cambodia in 1979 and ousted the ruling Khmer Rouge regime, hailed the talks as ``an initial important step leading to a process of favorable solution to the Kampuchean problem.''
But Asian and Western diplomats here expressed reservations about the peace plan, because it said nothing about the withdrawal of some 140,000 Vietnamese troops from Cambodia, the key demand of Sihanouk's Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea and its backers in China, Thailand, and the United States.
``The agreement makes no mention of Vietnam being a party to the conflict,'' one Southeast Asian diplomat observed. ``It says Cambodia is a problem among Cambodians, and Cambodians have to solve it. The agreement looks very Vietnamese to me,'' he said, alluding to Vietnam's description of the Cambodia problem as a civil war rather than a foreign occupation.
Southeast Asian diplomats here are also uneasy about Sihanouk's agreement to hold a second round of talks with Hun Sen in January, even if the Prince's coalition allies refuse to participate. ``Is Sihanouk trying to cut a separate deal with the Vietnamese?'' one Southeast Asian diplomat asked.
The Hun Sen-Sihanouk communiqu'e made no direct mention of the Khmer Rouge, the most important guerrilla force battling the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge have refused talks with the Phnom Penh regime, and say they will fight until Vietnam withdraws its troops.
Some diplomats say China, the main arms supplier to the anti-Vietnamese resistance forces, could bring the Khmer Rouge to the negotiating table, but other observers point out that even the Chinese were unable to force the Khmer Rouge to talk with the Americans during the Indochina war in the 1970s.
China has so far refused to comment directly on the Hun Sen-Sihanouk talks. Diplomats here say China is not enthusiastic about Sihanouk's decision to meet alone with Hun Sen, but they note that Peking did not try to stop the talks. Sihanouk canceled two previous meetings scheduled with Hun Sen in 1985 and earlier this year when China voiced its opposition.
Sihanouk has been increasingly anxious in recent months to find a solution to the Cambodian conflict and has made several moves, including stepping down as head of the resistance coalition last May, without consulting China first.
Diplomats here speculate that one of Sihanouk's goals in meeting Hun Sen alone was to press China and his coalition partners into joining the peace process.
Vietnam and its allies in Phnom Penh have tried to project an image of flexibility and willingess to compromise on the Cambodia problem in recent months. Hun Sen repeated Vietnam's pledge to withdraw its troops from Cambodia by 1990, or sooner if a political agreement is reached.
Some analysts here believe that Hun Sen's willingness to request a meeting with the Prince, one of Sihanouk's conditions for the talks, indicates that Vietnam and Cambodian might be willing to make some compromises with Sihanouk to set up a coalition government in Phnom Penh.
But others insist Hanoi will not accept a neutral Cambodia. They quote Vietnamese Defense Minister Le Duc Anh who wrote a major article a few years ago in which he argued that close cooperation among the three countries of Indochina is vital to the survival of Vietnam.