Cambodia Needs Aid, Not Just Elections
UN mandate should be extended to help country through transition
DESPITE the positive developments of the peace process and the elections, and the logistical success of the massive repatriation effort, Cambodians still face the prospect of resurgent Khmer Rouge tyranny, the oppressive corruption and human rights violations of the Vietnamese, expanding warfare, and continued economic collapse.
As Cambodians absorb the news of the election returns, speculation is rife about whether the governing State of Cambodia or the Khmer Rouge will respect the elections results. The announcement by several State of Cambodia-controlled provinces of their intention to secede from the country, along with the immediate failure of a coalition government proposed by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, increase this concern, especially in light of the United Nations plan to withdraw from the country in August.
It is regrettable that during this past year, the UN has failed to use its time in Cambodia to fulfill its mandate to disarm the fighting factions and has squandered its chance to deal forcefully with the Khmer Rouge.
Supported by China in the 1980s and invited into the peace process by the United States and its allies, the Khmer Rouge has murdered UN personnel during this past year, directed massacres of peasants of Vietnamese origin, and opened new battlefronts throughout the country.
Both the Khmer Rouge's and the State of Cambodia's capacity for renewed conflict remain as strong as it was at the beginning of the UN-administered transitional period. Newly repatriated refugees have returned to Cambodia only to be forced immediately to flee renewed fighting and join the nearly 200,000 Cambodians who are "internally displaced" due to war. Others find themselves relocated to remote areas with no possibility of earning any income, living in houses that abut mine fields.
While the countryside endures absolute poverty and terrorizing violence, an inflationary urban economy thrives in Phnom Penh, where prostitution and gourmet restaurants have flourished during the UN operation. If the elections are to have real meaning, and if the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Cambodia are to succeed, the international community must address these problems and not abandon the effort.
Life for most Cambodians is a struggle at best. Clean water is unobtainable for the majority. One-third of all households are headed by women who, as a group, find themselves with fewer resources and less access to income than men. Children face endemic malnutrition; one in five Cambodian children dies before the age of five. Maternal mortality rates are similarly stratospheric. And now Cambodia faces an AIDS crisis; the number of people diagnosed as infected with HIV has increased by a factor of 10 in t he past year alone.
Land mines menace Cambodians to an almost unimaginable degree. The country has the highest proportion of amputees on earth, with one out of every 240 Cambodians missing a limb. At least 4 million mines are planted in Cambodian soil, causing constant and unspeakable human suffering. In Battambang province, formerly Cambodia's "rice bowl," mines have rendered 20 percent of the land unusable for farming, and new mines continue to be placed. Although Cambodia and Thailand signed a logging ban last December, the forest continues to be plundered to enable the Khmer Rouge and the State of Cambodia to pay for their war efforts. This is hurtling Cambodia toward another type of environmental catastrophe.
Despite its desperate situation, Cambodia finds itself the subject of an international waiting game. Less than $150 million of the $880 million pledged for Cambodia in Tokyo in June 1992 have been disbursed. Without investment in Cambodia's future, basic conditions that promote stability will remain nonexistent. While recognizing the difficulty of directing aid to an as-of-yet unrecognized government, donor countries must honor their commit- ment in order to fulfill any promise of peace implied by the el ections.
Similarly, the UN Security Council should extend the presence of peacekeepers in Cambodia, evaluate the successes and failures of its operation there, and dedicate itself to a new phase promoting reconstruction, security, and human rights.
A firm cease-fire must be established. All Cambodian factions must be disarmed and a long-term commitment made to ensure that injustice does not return. Those who participated in Khmer Rouge atrocities during 1974-79 must be held accountable for the crimes against humanity they have committed, which would send an unmistakable signal that their intransigence and violence will not be tolerated. Intensive mine-sweeping efforts and progress toward an international ban on the production, sale, and use of land
mines are urgent tasks.
If the UN is unwilling to use its authority to disarm all sides in this conflict, the world community must rethink its purpose in mounting such difficult, expensive, and ultimately vain operations, which in the end will amount to nothing more than a palliative for the conscience.
At the signing of the Paris Accords, former Secretary of State James Baker III said, "What makes the case of Cambodia so extraordinary and its claim for international support so compelling is the magnitude of the suffering its people endured."
Our history with a responsibility to this country runs deep. After 20 years as a hostage to global political agendas, Cambodia has a chance at peace. After millions of lives have been lost, it would be shameful if our moral commitment waivers and our attention turns elsewhere. Cambodia can't wait.