Khmer Rouge using ‘talk-and-fight’ strategy to harass Phnom Penh govt

Iseas conference on South-east Asia in the 21st century
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THE Khmer Rouge appeared to be using a “talk-and-fight” strategy to keep the Phnom Penh government off balance, an American scholar said yesterday.

Since the United Nations-sponsored polls in Cambodia in May, the Khmer Rouge seemed to deploy contradictory tactics which might indicate factionalism or confusion in its ranks, said Cambodia scholar Professor David Chandler.

Speaking at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies’ international conference on the future of the region, he said that the Khmer Rouge had offered to reconcile with Phnom Penh, while at the same time continuing its attacks on the coalition government.

This could reflect a breakdown in the command structure, he said, but it was more likely that “talk-and-fight” was part of its strategy to harass Phnom Penh.

This strategy served the Khmer Rouge’s interests, as the movement had run out of overseas support, he added.

Prof Chandler, who is with Monash University’s Centre for South-east Asian Studies in Australia, said he believed it was still the aim of the Khmer Rouge to split the Phnom Penh government and force national attention on its own anti-Vietnamese agenda.

“If the tactics succeed, the Khmer Rouge would have edged themselves closer to real power,” he said.

Without backing from China, and enjoying less support from Thailand, the military might of the Khmer Rouge would be affected. But the group’s anti-Vietnamese agenda could still appeal to many Cambodians, Prof Chandler said.

A series of massacres of Vietnamese in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge in March have strained Phnom Penh’s already tense ties with Hanoi.

Anti-Vietnamese sentiment is widespread among Cambodians and their attitude towards the Vietnamese in Cambodia is one of open hostility and resentment.

Prof Chandler said the Phnom Penh government had to negotiate with Hanoi quickly to resolve this potentially explosive issue.

The coalition government appeared to be working, he said, noting that its co-leaders, Mr Hun Sen, and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, had just completed a successful tour of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

He urged Phnom Penh to pursue a policy of friendship with Bangkok and Hanoi, as the United Nations peacekeeping forces left Cambodia.

Professor Abdul Gaffar Peang-meth, a former member of the Cambodian resistance who now teaches political science at the University of Guam, said the UN had failed in its task of assuming control over key Phnom Penh government ministries as outlined in the 1991 Paris peace accords.

He also said the UN peacekeeping forces had failed to contain the Khmer Rouge.

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