US threat to Khmer Rouge over peace plan

MANILA - The United States, Japan and other powers yesterday attacked the Khmer Rouge for stalling the Cambodian peace process, warning that it risked total isolation.

Robert Zoellick, an under-secretary at the US State Department, said all aid to Cambodia's warring factions should be made conditional upon their co-operation with the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia. 'Any side that chooses to undermine the peace process will discredit and isolate itself,' said Mr Zoellick, standing in for the Secretary of State, James Baker. 'This should be our common message.'

He did not mention the Khmer Rouge by name, but the faction has been almost universally condemned for refusing to disarm and contain its troops, as required by the UN peace plan.

Mr Zoellick's comments came during annual talks between foreign ministers of the six-member Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) and seven trading partners, including the US, Japan, the European Community and Canada. Asean, grouping Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, was formed 25 years ago to promote regional political and economic co-operation.

The Asean foreign ministers expressed their concern over the Cambodian impasse in a communique. But diplomats said the ministers stopped short of directly attacking the Khmer Rouge for refusing to co-operate in implementing the peace accord, for fear that this could undermine Cambodia's Supreme National Council, of which the Khmer Rouge is a member.

However, Asean's biggest economic partners were less inhibited. With Britain holding the current EC presidency, the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, said the international community should stand firm in demanding that the Khmer Rouge fall into line. 'Determination in the face of Khmer Rouge obduracy is the best way of convincing the Khmer Rouge that the international will is not going to bend and that we are determined to find a way of legitimising a government in that country through free and fair elections,' he said.

During the meeting, the US and other donor countries also prodded Asean to promote human rights and exert pressure on the Burmese junta, linking future aid to democratisation and free-market policies.

'Burma is now exporting pain and death outside its borders in staggering terms', as a consequence of the military's 'illegitimate and brutal action', Mr Zoellick said, referring to heroin trafficking and the exodus of the Rohingya Muslim minority to Bangladesh.

But the Asean communique rejected tying economic aid to human rights concerns and said members would rebuff any attempt by the West to force them to take a tough stance on Burma.