Cambodian rebels arrive for reconciliation talks
By Nate Thayer
Wednesday, November 13,1991
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia —For 13 years, they tried to capture the Cambodian capital by force. On Tuesday, anti-Communist guerrillas flew into Phnom Penh to begin reconciliation talks under a UN mediated peace plan.
Leaders of the Western-backed Khmer People's National Liberation Front arrived for a meeting of the Supreme National Council, an interim government headed by resistance leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Sihanouk, 69, is due to arrive, Thursday, and a huge welcome is expected for the onetime king and head of state. Sihanouk was overthrown in a coup by pro-U.S. officers in 1970.
The four-faction Supreme Council is to run Cambodia until 1993, when UN-supervised elections are scheduled. "We are very happy to be home. It is the first time in more than 16 years," said the non-Communist Liberation Front's Cabinet chief, Pen Thol. "Achieving peace was difficult, but reconstruction of our country and building a better life will be much harder," he told The Associated Press.
Cambodia was embroiled in civil war until the Communist Khmer Rouge took over in 1975. The Khmer Rouge ruled for four bloody years, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead from starvation, disease and executions, until they were ousted by the Vietnamese.
Cambodia's main rebel groups
• Khmer Rouge: The strongest guerrilla group, the Communist Khmer Rouge ruled from 1975 to 1978 with repressive regime believed responsible for 1 million deaths from executions, famine and unrest. Ousted by Invasion of Soviet-backed Vietnamese forces. Estimated strength: 30,000 troops. Led publicly by Khteu Samphan and Son Sen, but there Is speculation former dictator Pol Pot may still be In charge.
• Prince Norodom Sihanouk's Group: Sihanouk's 29-year rule ended In 1970 military coup. From exile, Sihanouk directed noncommunist guerrilla forces with estimated 20,000 fighters. Sihanouk led rebel coalition in peace talks.
• Khmer People's National Liberation Front: Led by former Cambodian Prime Minister Son Sann, It is other major non-communist guerrilla force. Made pact with Sihanouk's forces In 1982.
A coalition of 13 international aid agencies issued a statement Tuesday expressing fears over Khmer Rouge participation in the interim council. The International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity said it was concerned "about the absence of any judicial action" against Khmer Rouge leaders. "The international community has an obligation to the (Cambodian) people to prevent a return to the human rights abuses of the 1970s," it said.
The Liberation Front guerrillas fought from the jungles along the Thai border for years,' hoping to topple the pro-Hanoi government. The guerrillas were in a loose coalition with the Khmer Rouge and a group loyal to Sihanouk.
An advance team from Sihanouk's followers has already arrived in Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge are to arrive next week •
A UN-brokered peace accord signed in Paris last month officially ended the conflict and set in motion an international effort to monitor the cease-fire, disarm the combatants, help reconstruct this country of 6 million residents and organize elections.
The truce itself has gotten off to a rocky start, with all factions trading accusations of violations. "We cannot build trust after 13 years of fighting overnight," said Pen Thol. "If we all work sincerely, the interests of the country and the people can come to a common ground."
Also arriving Tuesday was the French general who will head the advance UN military contingent observing the truce. He promised to deal with the hundreds of thousands of mines littering the countryside from years of war.
Meanwhile, curious onlookers continued to gawk at the Phnom Penh villa where the first UN troops are staying. The Australians staying there said Cambodians were particularly puzzled by a flag depicting a kangaroo in boxing gloves.