Mitterrand tells Cambodians to respect treaty

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PHNOM PENH - President Francois Mitterrand of France urged the Cambodian factions yesterday not to throw away the country's chance for peace, and to respect the terms of the treaty they signed in France more than a year ago. The head of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who welcomed Mr Mitterrand earlier, said he did not think there would be large-scale warfare in Cambodia, but saw little chance of true peace.

Mr Mitterrand is the first Western head of state to visit the former French colony since Charles de Gaulle in 1966. France co-chaired a conference in Paris in October 1991 at which the four Cambodian factions agreed peace terms. The accords led to the deployment last year of a United Nations peace-keeping mission, now numbering 21,000, but the Maoist Khmer Rouge is refusing to respect the agreement or take part in UN-organised elections in May.

Mr Mitterrand met the leaders of the four factions, including the Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan, at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh after an hour of talks with Prince Sihanouk. 'The President reminded the meeting that there was a real chance of peace that shouldn't be allowed to pass by,' said the French presidential spokesman, Jean Musitelli. 'The international community has got itself involved like never before in the issue of Cambodia, and the actions of the factions should not go against the international community,' he quoted the president as saying.

Prince Sihanouk - expected eventually to become president - said before meeting Mr Mitterrand that he was not at the moment a candidate for a proposed presidential election, but would continue to try to act as a stabilising influence aloof from the factions. Although France is the main international backer of such a poll, the Prince said there was no point in his seeking election as president while the Khmer Rouge opposed both presidential and national assembly elections.

Prince Sihanouk predicted that if the government won the national election the civil war would continue, because the Khmer Rouge would not accept the result. If the winners were the royalists under his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, it would be necessary to convince the government, army and police to support a new government.

Asked about the future, he replied: 'I don't believe there will be a major war, but neither will there be a true peace.' Some diplomats believe France may be willing to support a future government when the mandate of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac) ends.

Mr Mitterrand, who arrived from Vietnam, leaves today after a visit to Siem Reap, a north-western town where French Foreign Legion troops are stationed. Early on Wednesday morning the town was attacked by about 50 armed marauders who killed three people, wounded eight and stole 11 ancient statues from a museum housing treasures from the nearby Angkor Wat temple complex.