UN gambles on Cambodia poll

Registration of voters for next year's internationally supervised election in Cambodia is due to begin today, despite the refusal of the Khmer Rouge, the most feared guerrilla faction, to co-operate with the United Nations peace plan signed in Paris last year.

Under its terms, 70 per cent of the country's 200,000 fighters should by now have gathered in assembly areas set up by UN peace-keeping forces and handed over their weapons, but no more than a tenth have done so.

The Khmer Rouge, which murdered a million Cambodians between 1975 and 1978, has refused to disarm, or in most cases to allow UN officials into areas under its control. This has allowed its main enemy, the Phnom Penh government of Hun Sen, to justify keeping its forces largely intact as well.

The UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac), however, is gambling that it can hold the election on schedule next May. 'They are determined to forge ahead, never excluding the Khmer Rouge, but simply repeating that if you don't register, you can't vote,' said a European diplomat who recently had talks in Cambodia.

The compilation of voters' lists will begin in the capital today, with UN teams moving out into the countryside in two weeks' time. By late November, according to a UN spokesman, 834 registration teams, consisting of 40,000 Cambodian employees, supervised by 400 Untac officials, will be operating in every area of Cambodia, with a deadline of 31 December. Untac is also calling on political parties to register for the election. Two of the factions have filled out applications, but have yet to satisfy all the requirements.

The UN operation in Cambodia, the most expensive and ambitious in the organisation's history, has been dogged by delays and accusations of inefficiency and lavish spending. The failure of the factions to disarm has left many of the 16,000 UN peace-keeping troops with nothing to do, and money is running low. Untac's head, Yasushi Akashi, a Japanese diplomat, badly needs to show results as the mission's paymasters consider his request for more funds to be released.

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