Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Cambodian Royal Chronicle

97) Heng Samrin/Hun Sen

(1979--1991, Capital: Phnom Penh)
Heng Samrin and Hun Sen were Pol Pot’s army officers who were stationed in the eastern region of Cambodia near the Vietnamese border. During Pol Pot’s purging campaign on his communist cadre’s ranks and files, they both escaped to Vietnam and began to organize a resistant movement against his rule. With the support of the Vietnamese armed forces, they successfully toppled Pol Pot from power in 1979 and became leaders of Cambodia which they renamed the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK).

During the early years of their rule, Heng Samrin and Hun Sen faced tremendous challenges and difficulties. Politically, Cambodia was occupied and indirectly ruled by Vietnam. Socially and economically, they had to rebuild Cambodia from scratches, for Pol Pot had virtually destroyed everything. In addition, the international community, except for a few communist sympathizing countries, not only refused to help and support them but also accused them of being puppets of the Vietnamese invaders. On top of that, they were confronting with a civil war against Pol Pot’s forces and two other insurgent armies led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk and former prime minister Son Sann who were launching guerrilla warfare from the Thai-Cambodian border, ostensibly to expel the Vietnamese occupying forces from Cambodia.

As Heng Samrin and Hun Sen struggled to rebuild Cambodia and rehabilitate its battered population which suffered from years of abuses by Pol Pot and his collaborators, the three insurgent armies, led by Pol Pot, Prince Sihanouk, Son Sann, and backed by China, the United States, and Thailand, began a guerrilla-war campaign against both the PRK’s and Vietnamese occupying forces. The fighting dragged on for almost a decade before all sides, weary of the bloodshed, agreed in 1988 to negotiate for a peace settlement. The negotiation went on and off for three years. Finally, in 1991, the four antagonistic forces reached an agreement to stop using bullets and settle their contest over Cambodia through ballot boxes.

The agreement, known as the Paris Agreement (named after the city in which it was signed), called for a complete withdrawal of the Vietnamese armed forces from Cambodia, the disarmament and cantonment of the four factional armies, removal of all foreign patronage from the contending Cambodian factions, and the establishment of a United Nations-supervised interim government called the Supreme National Council (SNC) headed by Prince Sihanouk and composed of 12 representatives, 6 from the incumbent government and 2 from each of the three opposition factions. The agreement also called for a UN-supervised general election which was to be held in 1993 under the auspices and control of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).

98) The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC)
(1991--1993, Capital: Phnom Penh)
The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was created as a result of the international conference on Cambodia which was convened in Paris in October 1991. Under the terms of the agreements reached at the conference in Paris, UNTAC’s mandate was to disarm the three antagonistic factions of the Cambodian armed forces, repatriate back to Cambodia the 300,000 or so Cambodian refugees from Thailand, and organize a general election in 1993 in order to establish a legitimate, internationally-recognized government in Cambodia. In other words, the international community, through UNTAC, planned to establish a democratically elected government in Cambodia--a far-reaching endeavor indeed given the fact that Cambodia had never known real democratic government for close to 2000 years.

As soon as it set foot in Cambodia, UNTAC began to work diligently to accomplish its goals. However, the operation hit obstacles right from the start because all of the antagonistic parties, especially the Khmer Rouge, jockeying for political advantages, refused to cooperate or obey the terms of the agreements. Sporadic violence broke out almost all over the country. Political killing was rampant. And Cambodia, once again, became a pariah state.

Determined to see its mission accomplished, UNTAC went ahead with its plan. It safely repatriated all the Cambodian refugees from Thailand to Cambodia, suspended the disarmament and troops cantonment process, and began to organize a national election. UNTAC’s policy seemed to be clear and simple: Whoever wanted to participate in the election to form a new government was welcome to do so. And those who did not want to participate may stay out of it.

As predicted, the Khmer Rouge boycotted the election and began a violent campaign against it. But despite the Khmer Rouge’s objection, UNTAC was able to successfully organize an election in 1993 as scheduled with the participation from all parties except for the Khmer Rouge. Unfortunately, as a new government was about to form, the incumbent government which did not win the majority of the votes refused to relinquish power and threatened a civil war if it were not allowed to retain and share the new government’s portfolios.

Facing with a dire dilemma, UNTAC subsequently brokered a compromise deal in which a unique power-sharing coalition government was established. Under the compromise, a co-minister post was established where each government ministry was headed by two ministers, one from the election’s majority winner and the other from the incumbent government. The prime minister’s post was headed by first and second premiers with the same arrangement as the ministry level.

Thus, after 3 years of nerve wracking operation, UNTAC had finally founded a two-headed democracy monster which could be found no where else in the world. The democratic government which UNTAC helped created in Cambodia, though interestingly unique, appeared to be utterly fragile and prone to collapse, for no antagonists whose interests were to outwit, destroy or deny the other’s existence could possibly work together peacefully.

For the record, UNTAC’s mission in Cambodia costed some 2 billion U.S. dollars. It was the largest and most expensive operation the United Nations had ever undertaken. Also, Cambodia was the first country to be used as a test case for the UN’s peace making and reconciliation endeavor.
(To be continued)

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