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Asia File: Hopes of filthy lucre fuel drive on Khmer Rouge

THE CAMBODIAN parliament voted by 103 votes to none yesterday to outlaw the Khmer Rouge. The only surprising thing about that news is that the movement was not banned long ago.

The Khmer Rouge, after all, murdered a million people when it held power in the 1970s, and has not ceased to spread misery ever since. It refused to take part in the United Nations-supervised elections last year, and its guerrilla attacks disrupt Cambodia's reconstruction. It is still led by the genocidal Pol Pot, and maintains itself by stripping gems and timber in the areas it controls.

Banning the Khmer Rouge will not solve Cambodia's problems. The decision signifies that the hard-line ex- Communists in the governing coalition, many of them Khmer Rouge defectors, obsessed with eliminating their former comrades, have gained sway over those who believe a settlement will have to be reached. Among these is King Sihanouk, whose royalist Funcinpec party was forced into a coalition with the ex-Communists in the Cambodian People's Party because otherwise the CPP would have made Cambodia ungovernable.

Sihanouk's son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is joint Prime Minister with the CPP's Hun Sen, seemed entirely in favour of the move yesterday, telling the Khmer Rouge that it was 'time to give up'.

Even the Finance Minister, Sam Rainsy, regarded as one of the few uncorrupt members of government, voted for the measure after human rights safeguards were inserted. Outlawing the Khmer Rouge, it is true, might shame Thailand, which scarcely conceals its support for the group. Prince Ranariddh said he would now ask neighbouring states to arrest Khmer Rouge guerrillas on their soil. But with companies controlled by Thai generals making about dollars 20m ( pounds 13m) a month out of trade with the rebels, embarrassment will not be enough.

Mr Rainsy's name crops up here as well: to clean up corruption in the tropical timber trade, he insisted that all export contracts, mainly with Thailand, had to be authorised by his ministry. Last month Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen told him this responsibility was being switched to the defence ministry, which promptly did deals with two Thai companies.

Apart from the rich pickings for all concerned, including Funcinpec, there may well be an intended message to Thailand - drop the Khmer Rouge and do business in Phnom Penh.

Pol Pot and his followers will probably not be too concerned. The chances of the ban having an effect are small, and the message to Cambodians will be that the Khmer Rouge is not to blame for the corrupt shenanigans in the capital.

The heat in the Indian subcontinent is pretty intense at this time of year, so it is not surprising that the elites of India and Pakistan find it convenient to explore business opportunities in Germany, attend conferences in Paris or consult their physicians in Harley Street in May, June or July. If they can take in Wimbledon or the summer sales as well, so much the better.

This may explain why the entourage for Benazir Bhutto's recent official visit to Ireland, the first by a Pakistani Prime Minister, was the biggest the Irish had ever seen. After the two days of ceremonial, most of the party boarded planes for London.

Why didn't they simply visit Britain in the first place? It seems it was too soon since we last had a Pakistani PM here, so an invitation was solicited from Dublin instead.