Peace is near for Cambodia, Sihanouk says


BEIJING -- Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk predicted yesterday that his country's four warring factions probably would reach a formal peace agreement next month, but large disagreements remain to be bridged.

The prince also declared that Cambodia -- devastated by more than a decade of civil war following three years of genocidal rule by the Communist Khmer Rouge in the 1970s -- would adopt a parliamentary system with a strong presidency, much as in France.

And the prince, the ruler of Cambodia from 1941 to 1970, expressed no doubts that he would be elected to that presidency.

"Cambodia will be a liberal democracy . . . constituted very similar to the Fifth French Republic, and I am going to be its president," Prince Sihanouk said.

The prince's comments came at the end of a two-day meeting here of representatives of Cambodia's current, Vietnamese-installed government and the nation's three resistance groups -- a meeting at which the four factions appeared to build on breakthroughs in the peace process achieved at a meeting in Thailand last month.

Among the points of new progress announced here by the prince was resolution of a lingering dispute over leadership of the four groups' coalition body, the Supreme National Council, by selecting him as its neutral president.

To gain the council's presidency, Prince Sihanouk agreed to step down as president of the three resistance groups and to disavow any affiliation with any faction or political party. Among the SNC's 11 partisan seats, six are filled by the government and five by the resistance.

The prince will also lead a new SNC delegation to the United Nations. It will replace a delegation now composed solely of resistance members with one that includes for the first time a representative of the Cambodian government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Diplomatic observers of the SNC meeting here believe that it will require a high degree of political maneuvering on the part of the 68-year-old prince to bring the SNC to final agreement on a U.N.-proposed peace plan.

The SNC agreed last month on a cease-fire in the civil war and cessation of foreign arms shipments to all factions, both key breakthroughs in principle that may not yet have been realized.

But further stumbling blocks include whether to demobilize or freeze the factions' armies in place, how to effectively ensure those military controls and how to reach a formula by which political power could be temporarily transferred from the current Cambodian government to the SNC or the United Nations before U.N.-supervised elections.

The prince predicted that these problems probably would be solved in the SNC's next meeting in late August in Bangkok, Thailand.

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