The Search for Peace

The Search for Peace

The most intractable foreign policy question facing the rival Cambodian regimes in the 1980s was that of how to establish an independent, neutral, and nonaligned Cambodia under a set of terms agreeable to all those, both at home and abroad, who were interested. Despite differing perceptions of potential gains and losses, all parties to the Cambodian dispute were striving for reconciliation. This was a positive sign, especially because in 1979 and in 1980, no one, except perhaps Sihanouk, believed that reconciliation was possible.

In the first two years of the Cambodian crisis, the rival Cambodian regimes had different priorities. The Heng Samrin regime's overriding concern was to consolidate its political and its territorial gains, while relying on the Vietnamese to take the lead in foreign affairs and in national security. The political price of this external dependence was high because it contributed to Phnom Penh's image as a Vietnamese puppet. Vietnam also paid a price for its assertion that it had intervened only "at the invitation" of Heng Samrin "to defend the gains of the revolution they have won...at a time when the Beijing expansionists are colluding with the United States." Phnom Penh and Hanoi also asserted speciously that political turmoil inside Cambodia constituted a civil war and was, therefore, of no concern to outsiders. Vietnam's attempts to shield the Cambodian crisis from external scrutiny led its noncommunist neighbors to suspect that Hanoi was finally moving to fulfill its historical ambition of dominating all of Indochina.

Anti-Heng Samrin resistance groups pursued an opposite course. Their strategy was to internationalize the Cambodian question--with political support from China and from the ASEAN nations--as a case of unprovoked Vietnamese aggression, in order to put pressure on Vietnam and to undermine the legitimacy of the Heng Samrin administration. At the same time, the resistance groups sought to destabilize the Heng Samrin regime by challenging the Vietnamese occupation forces. The regime in Phnom Penh, with support from Vietnam and from the Soviet Union, nevertheless continued to consolidate its gains.

In 1981 the rival camps pressed on with their confrontational tactics. The anti-Vietnamese resistance factions, despite their long-standing, internal feuds, began to negotiate among themselves for unity against their common enemy. On the diplomatic front, they worked closely with ASEAN to convene the UN-sponsored International Conference on Kampuchea, which took place from July 13 to July 17, 1981, in New York. The conference, attended by representatives from seventy-nine countries and by observers from fifteen countries, adopted a declaration of principles for settling the Cambodian crisis. The central elements of the declaration were those contained in the UN General Assembly resolution of 1979 and in the proposals for Cambodian peace announced by the ASEAN countries in October 1980. The declaration called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces in the shortest possible time under the supervision and the verification of a UN peacekeeping-observer group; for arrangements to ensure that armed Cambodian factions would not prevent or disrupt free elections; for measures to maintain law and order during the interim before free elections could be held and a new government established; for free elections under UN auspices; for the continuation of Cambodia's status as a neutral and nonaligned state; and for a declaration by the future elected government that Cambodia would not pose a threat to other countries, especially to neighboring states. The declaration also called on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States) and on all other states to pledge to respect Cambodia's independence, its territorial integrity, and its neutral status and to declare that they would neither draw Cambodia into any military alliance, nor introduce foreign troops into the country, nor establish any military bases there. The declaration's principles were reaffirmed in successive UN General Assembly resolutions, and they formed the basis of the ASEAN-sponsored framework for resolving the Cambodian question in the 1980s.

Since 1979 the ASEAN countries have played a significant role on behalf of the Cambodian resistance factions. Individually and collectively, through the annual conferences of their foreign ministers, these countries consistently have stressed the importance of Vietnam's withdrawal as a precondition for a comprehensive political settlement of the Cambodian question. They have rejected all moves by Hanoi and Phnom Penh that were aimed at legitimizing the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia and the Heng Samrin regime. Together with China, they also were architects of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea.

Phnom Penh's principal foreign policy spokesman has been Vietnam, and its major diplomatic moves have been coordinated by and proclaimed by the annual conference of foreign ministers of the three Indochinese states meeting consecutively in Hanoi (or Ho Chi Minh City), in Phnom Penh, and in Vientiane. Hanoi's position on Cambodia has been that the "so-called Kampuchean problem is but the consequence of Chinese expansionism and hegemonism," that Vietnam's military presence in Cambodia was defensive because it was meeting the Chinese threat to Cambodia and to Vietnam, and that Hanoi would withdraw from Cambodia when the Chinese threat no longer existed.

Thailand's stance on the Cambodian issue has been of particular concern to Phnom Penh and to Hanoi. ASEAN initially maintained the position that Thailand was not a party to the Cambodian conflict but an "affected bystander" entitled to adopt a policy of neutrality. Hanoi and Phnom Penh denounced that posture as "sham neutrality" and accused Thailand of colluding with China; they alleged that Thailand allowed shipment of Chinese arms through its territory to the "remnants of [the] Pol Pot-Ieng Sary clique," which was operating inside the Thai border. They also claimed that Bangkok sheltered and armed Pol Pot's guerrillas and other Cambodian "reactionaries."

Nevertheless, the Heng Samrin regime made friendly overtures to Bangkok. In June 1980, for example, it proposed a meeting to discuss resuming "normal relations" and turning their common border into "a border of friendship and peace." The Heng Samrin regime stated that its primary concern was the elimination of "all hostile acts" between the two countries and that it was willing to forget the past and "all the provocations launched by Thailand against Cambodia." Thailand replied that talks with the Heng Samrin regime would solve nothing. Besides, Thai officials said, such talks would lend an inappropriate appearance of recognition to the Phnom Penh regime. They also stressed that Vietnam had to withdraw from Cambodia before constructive talks could take place.

In July 1980, the three Indochinese states proposed the signing of multilateral or bilateral treaties of peaceful coexistence, nonaggression, and noninterference among themselves and Thailand. They added that the treaties should also be signed by "other Southeast Asian countries." The proposal also called for the creation of a Southeast Asian zone of peace and stability and for a demilitarized border zone between Cambodia and Thailand. Bangkok, however, viewed the proposal as an attempt to divert international attention from the fundamental question of Vietnamese occupation and as a gambit to get indirect or "back-door" recognition for the Heng Samrin regime.

The Indochinese states sought to open a dialogue with the ASEAN countries in 1981 by proposing a regional conference, which was to be attended also by observers such as the UN secretary general and by representatives from several countries. The proposal was Hanoi's way of internationalizing the Cambodian issue: Vietnam would be able to link its role in Cambodia to the roles of Thailand and of China in aiding the anti-Vietnamese resistance groups. To highlight the linkage, Hanoi made two suggestions: first, the regional conference could address "the Cambodian question" if the Thai and Chinese connections also were discussed; and second, Vietnam would immediately withdraw some of its troops if and when Thailand stopped aiding the resistance groups and if the UN withdrew its recognition of Democratic Kampuchea.

In July 1982, Hanoi, aware that no one was taking it seriously, departed from its previous position. It announced that it had gone ahead with a partial withdrawal and now demanded only that Thailand promise to stop aiding Khmer insurgents. At that time, the Indochinese foreign ministers revealed that "in the immediate future," the PRK would not plan to reclaim the Cambodian seat at the United Nations if the Pol Pot clique were expelled from that organization. The Thai government dismissed Hanoi's statement as a rhetorical concession designed only to mislead the world and characterized the partial withdrawal as nothing more than a disguised troop rotation.

At the first Indochinese summit held on February 22 and February 23, 1983, in Vientiane, the participants declared that all Vietnamese "volunteers" would be withdrawn when external threats to Cambodia no longer existed, but that Hanoi, would reassess its option to return to Cambodia if a new threat emerged after it had withdrawn from the country.

Hanoi contended that its partial withdrawal was a positive first step toward eventual restoration of peace in Cambodia, but some observers felt that the real reason for the withdrawal was Hanoi's realization that a deadlock over the Cambodian issue would create too much of a drain on its limited resources. Another likely reason for the withdrawal was the growing Cambodian irritation with the movement of Vietnamese nationals into Cambodia's fertile lands around the Tonle Sap. This population migration was a potential source of renewed ethnic conflict.

In July 1983, the Indochinese foreign ministers denied "the slanderous allegation of China, the United States, and a number of reactionary circles within the ASEAN countries" that Vietnam was aiding and abetting Vietnamese emigration to Cambodia. (Khmer Rouge sources claimed that as of 1987, between 600,000 and 700,000 Vietnamese immigrants were in Cambodia; the Heng Samrin regime put the number at about 60,000.)

In September 1983, ASEAN foreign ministers issued a joint "Appeal for Kampuchean Independence," proposing a phased Vietnamese withdrawal, coupled with an international peacekeeping force and with assistance in rebuilding areas vacated by the Vietnamese. Hanoi rejected the appeal, however, seeking instead a position of strength from which it could dictate terms for a settlement. Vietnam launched a major dry-season offensive in 1984 in an attempt to crush all resistance forces permanently. The offensive destroyed most, if not all, resistance bases.

In January 1985, the Indochinese foreign ministers claimed that the Cambodian situation was unfolding to their advantage and that the Cambodian question would be settled in five to ten years with or without negotiations. At that time, PRK Prime Minister Hun Sen revealed Phnom Penh's readiness to hold peace talks with Sihanouk and with Son Sann, but only if they agreed to dissociate themselves from Pol Pot. On March 12, Hun Sen proposed a dialogue with rival factions under a six-point plan. The proposal called for the removal of the Pol Pot clique from all political and military activities; for a complete Vietnamese withdrawal; for national reconciliation and for free elections under UN supervision; for peaceful coexistence in Southeast Asia; for cessation of external interference in Cambodian affairs; and for the establishment of an international supervisory and control commission to oversee the implementation of agreements. Shortly afterward, Hanoi stressed that the question of foreign military bases in Cambodia was an issue that could be negotiated only between Vietnam and Cambodia. Hanoi also signaled that the Khmer Rouge regime could participate in the process of Cambodian self-determination only if it disarmed itself and broke away from the Pol Pot clique.

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