Back to the Killing Fields?

The Vietnam War is still killing people in Southeast Asia. The U.S. refusal to put to rest its enmity against Vietnam has created conditions that may lead directly to a renewal of civil war in the neighboring country of Cambodia.

Vietnamese troops, which have occupied Cambodia for 10 years, were scheduled to be withdrawn at the end of September. An international conference convened in Paris this August to discuss Cambodia's fate in the wake of the withdrawal foundered on one key issue: the role the murderous Khmer Rouge would play in the interim government of Cambodia. With no agreement reached at the conference, the struggle over the country's fate returns to the battlefield.

The United States sought to have its cake and eat it too at the Paris talks. While proclaiming an aversion to the Khmer Rouge forces, high-level State Department representatives -- including Secretary of State Jim Baker -- supported Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who heads a coalition that includes the Khmer Rouge, in his contention that "respectable" representatives of the Khmer Rouge should be allowed into the interim government, and that they should then contest the free election that would follow. Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge "respectable" representative at earlier talks on Cambodia, was one of the authors of the forced evacuation of Cambodian towns during Pol Pot's reign of terror.

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