The Sihanouk-Hun Sen Meeting

Cambodia Table of Contents

Hun Sen's April 1987 proposal for a talk with Sihanouk was resurrected in August when the prince sent a message to Hun Sen through the Palestine Liberation Organization's ambassador in Pyongyang. Sihanouk was hopeful that his encounter with Hun Sen would lead to another UN-sponsored Geneva conference on Indochina, which, he believed, would assure a political settlement that would allow Vietnam and the Soviet Union to save face. Such a conference, Sihanouk maintained, should include the UN secretary general, representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Laos, Vietnam, and the four Cambodian factions. He also suggested the inclusion of ASEAN countries, members of the defunct International Control Commission (India, Canada, and Poland), and other concerned parties.

The Heng Samrin regime had apparently envisioned a meeting between Sihanouk and Hun Sen when it announced on August 27 a "policy on national reconciliation." While artfully avoiding the mention of Vietnam, the policy statement called for talks with the three resistance leaders but not with "Pol Pot and his close associates." An appeal to overseas Cambodians to support Phnom Penh's economic and national defense efforts and assurances that Cambodians who had served the insurgent factions would be welcomed home and would be assisted in resuming a normal life and in participating in the political process were key features of the policy. The regime also expressed for the first time its readiness to negotiate the issue of Cambodian refugees in Thailand. The offer to negotiate undercut the resistance factions, which, Phnom Penh contended, were exploiting displaced Cambodians by using them against the Heng Samrin regime for military and political purposes.

Resistance leaders questioned Phnom Penh's sincerity in promulgating its policy of reconciliation and were uncertain how to respond. At their annual consultation in Beijing, they and their Chinese hosts predictably called for a Vietnamese pullout as a precondition to a negotiated settlement. Sihanouk, however, launching a gambit of his own through Cambodian emigres in Paris, called for reconciliation émigrés among all Khmer factions. The initiative met with a favorable, but qualified, response from PRK Prime Minister Hun Sen and, in early October, the Phnom Penh government unveiled its own five-point plan for a political settlement. The PRK proposals envisioned peace talks between the rival Cambodian camps and "a high position [for Sihanouk] in the leading state organ" of the PRK, Vietnamese withdrawal in conjunction with the cutoff of outside aid to the resistance, general elections (organized by the Heng Samrin regime) held after the Vietnamese withdrawal, and the formation of a new four-party coalition. The October 8 plan also proposed negotiations with Thailand for the creation of a zone of peace and friendship along the Cambodian-Thai border, for discussions on an "orderly repatriation" of Cambodian refugees from Thailand, and for the convening of an international conference. The conference was to be attended by the rival Cambodian camps, the Indochinese states, the ASEAN states, the Soviet Union, China, India, France, Britain, the United States, and other interested countries. The CGDK, however, rejected the plan as an attempt to control the dynamics of national reconciliation while Cambodia was still occupied by Vietnam.

Sihanouk and the PRK continued their exploratory moves. On October 19, Hun Sen agreed to meet with Sihanouk, even though Sihanouk had cancelled similar meetings scheduled for late 1984 and for June 1987. At the end of October, Hun Sen flew to Moscow for diplomatic coordination. The CGDK announced on October 31 that a "clarification on national reconciliation policy" had been signed by all three resistance leaders. It was likely that the two main goals of the clarification, which was dated October 1, were to restate the CGDK's position on peace talks and to underline the unity among the resistance leaders. The statement said that "the first phase" of Vietnamese withdrawal must be completed before a four-party coalition government could be set up, not within the framework of the PRK but under the premises of a "neutral and noncommunist" Cambodia.

Sihanouk was clearly in the spotlight at this point. It was possible that his personal diplomacy would stir suspicion among his coalition partners, as well as among Chinese and ASEAN leaders. It was also possible that he might strike a deal with Phnom Penh and Hanoi and exclude the Khmer Rouge faction and its patron, China. Mindful of such potential misgivings, Sihanouk went to great lengths to clarify his own stand. He said that he would not accept any "high position" in the illegal PRK regime, that he would disclose fully the minutes of his talks with Hun Sen, and that he would not waver from his commitment to a "neutral and noncommunist" Cambodia free of Vietnamese troops.

Sihanouk and Hun Sen met at Fère-en-Tardenois, a village northeast of Paris, from December 2 to December 4, 1987. The communiqué they issued at the end of their talks mentioned their agreement to work for a political solution to the nine-year-old conflict and to call for an international conference. The conference, to be convened only after all Cambodian factions reached an agreement on a coalition arrangement, would support the new coalition accord and would guarantee the country's independence, neutrality, and nonalignment. The two leaders also agreed to meet again at Fère-en-Tardenois in January 1988 and in Pyongyang at a later date. The communiqué ended with a plea to the other Cambodian parties--Sihanouk's coalition partners--to join the next rounds of talks.

The communiqué offered no practical solution. In fact, it did not mention Vietnam, despite Sihanouk's demand that the communiqué include a clause on Vietnamese withdrawal. At a December 4 press conference, Hun Sen disclosed an understanding with Sihanouk that "concrete questions" would be discussed at later meetings. Included in the concrete questions were "the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops, Cambodia's future government, and Norodom Sihanouk's position." Hun Sen also revealed that during the meeting Sihanouk had told him that "the future political regime of Cambodia" should be a French-style democracy with a multiparty system and free radio and television. In an official commentary the following day, Hanoi was deliberately vague on Hun Sen's concrete questions, which, it said, would be dealt with "at the next meetings."

In foreign capitals, there were mixed reactions to what Hun Sen called the "historic meeting." Officials in Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Vientiane, and Moscow were enthusiastic. Thai officials, however, were cautious, if not disappointed, and they stressed the need for Vietnamese withdrawal and for Thailand's participation in peace talks with the Cambodians. Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta both welcomed the unofficial, or indirect, talks as a promising start toward a political solution. They agreed with Bangkok on the necessity of Vietnamese withdrawal. Officials in Pyongyang said the meeting was "a good thing," but declined to accept the suggestion of Hun Sen and Sihanouk that they mediate between China and the Soviet Union on the Cambodian issue. China stressed that it supported Sihanouk's efforts to seek "a fair and reasonable political settlement of the Kampuchean question." Such a settlement was said to be possible only when Vietnam withdrew all its troops from Cambodia.

On December 10, Sihanouk abruptly announced the cancellation of the second meeting with Hun Sen. He said that such a meeting would be useless because Son Sann and Khieu Samphan refused to participate in it and because they also refused to support the joint communiqué. He added that--out of fear that the governments in Phnom Penh, Hanoi, and Moscow might realize an unwarranted propaganda advantage from the meeting--he would not meet Hun Sen. But on December 15, Sihanouk announced abruptly that he would resume talks with Hun Sen because ASEAN members saw the cancellation as "a new complication" in their efforts to pressure the Vietnamese into leaving Cambodia. By December 20, Sihanouk and Hun Sen had agreed to resume talks on January 27, 1988. On December 21, Son Sann expressed his readiness to join the talks in a personal capacity, provided that Vietnam agreed to attend the talks or, if this was not possible, provided that Vietnam informed the UN secretary general and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council of its plan to vacate Cambodia as quickly as possible after all Cambodian factions had embarked on the process of internal reconciliation.

As 1987 drew to a close, talking and fighting continued amid hopes and uncertainties about the future of Cambodia. It was equally clear that progress toward a political settlement hinged chiefly on the credibility of Vietnam's announced intention to withdraw from Cambodia by 1990 and that this withdrawal alone was insufficient to guarantee a peaceful solution to Cambodia's problems. At least three more critical issues were at stake: an equitable power-sharing arrangement among these four warring factions, an agreement among the factions to disarm in order to ensure that civil war would not recur, and an effective international guarantee of supervision for the implementation of any agreements reached by the Cambodian factions. Still another critical question was whether or not an eventual political settlement was sufficient to assure a new Cambodia that was neutral, nonaligned, and noncommunist.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress