May 23, 1993, marks the happiest day of Yasushi Akashi’s life. Despite intimidation by the ruling CPP and the pullout of the Khmer Rouge from the 1993 UN-sponsored elections, Cambodians came out in droves to vote in the country’s first democratic elections in decades, making it a “resounding success.”
Still, the former head of the Untac mission here said Tuesday that in the end, threats of more violence led him to accept a deal proposed by then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk to establish a coalition government between the CPP and Funcinpec, even though the royalists won a majority vote in the 1993 elections.
“After the election, stability was not assured,” Akashi said during a speech reflecting on his time as head of Untac after the 1991 Paris Peace Accords were signed. “The CPP was so disappointed that they didn’t win, so frustrated.”
Government officials, diplomats and NGO representatives heard Akashi’s speech, which was sponsored by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. The event was chaired by Finance Minister Keat Chhon, who is also on the CICP board of directors.
Akashi arrived in Cambodia on Sunday for a three-day visit—his first trip to the country since the end of the Untac mission in 1993. On Monday, he attended a weapons destruction ceremony in Kompong Chhnang province.
He called the Untac mission the biggest and most complex UN operation at that time, costing $2 billion and involving 21,000 UN workers. He also noted that the mission was conducted during a sensitive time in Cambodia, and that Untac faced many challenges.
Instead of a simple, clear peacekeeping mission, Akashi said, Untac had to organize refugee repatriation, economic development and spread information about democracy and human rights.
And despite Untac’s effort to create a neutral atmosphere in the lead up to the 1993 elections, there were acts of intimidation and violence, which made “Funcinpec extremely fearful of CPP dominance, not only in the cities, but in the provinces as well.” Ten percent of UN workers also left because they felt a free election could not be assured.
“There was a danger of Funcinpec dropping out of the election,” Akashi said.
He called Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s move to stay in the race a “courageous decision.” After the royalists won the election, he then had to have many meetings with the CPP to persuade them to accept the election results, but he “flatly refused to conduct another election in the disputed provinces.”
Because of violence in several eastern provinces where the CPP disputed the election results and potential for more conflicts to occurred, Akashi said King Sihanouk made a wise decision to propose a coalition government.
Akashi said the proposal was not accepted by all in the UN, though he said future UN Secretary General Kofi Annan approved of it.
“The CPP came in second but they controlled the administration, the police and the military,” Akashi said. “We had to marry democracy and the need of [continued progress] and stability.”
Akashi said one of his disappointments was the failure to demobilize the armed forces belonging to the four factions that existed at the time of the Paris Peace Accords. The major reason for the lack of disarmament was the refusal of the Khmer Rouge to comply with the Paris Peace Accords.
“Their refusal to cooperate was clear by June 1992,” Akashi said. “We had a choice to stop the peace process and go home, or defy the Khmer Rouge and go ahead.”
Akashi also questioned whether Khmer Rouge nominal leader Khieu Samphan, whom he last met in January 1993, had the authority to negotiate on behalf of the ultra-Maoist group.
“I did my best to persuade Mr Khieu Samphan but I’m not sure he was the real negotiator with the real power,” Akashi said.
Akashi also addressed critics who said Untac didn’t push the Cambodian government hard enough on human rights, noting that the CPP was unhappy with the degree to which the UN addressed human rights issues.
“I remember Hun Sen complained I was adopting Pol Pot tactics by pushing human rights,” Akashi said.
Akashi has also been accused of not using his full power as head of the Untac mission to quell conflict among the four factions, but he said he wanted to “respect decisions made by Cambodians as much as possible.”
After leaving Cambodia, Akashi became the special representative of the UN secretary-general for the former Yugoslavia, and later the undersecretary-general of Humanitarian Affairs for the UN.
Akashi said the Untac mission succeeded in Cambodia, whereas the UN mission in the former Yugoslavia did not, because there was an agreement signed by the major factions in Cambodia before the UN mission came in and there was unity among the world’s superpowers.
In a question-and-answer period after Akashi’s speech, comments were made questioning whether the country’s next elections—the commune election in February 2002—will be fair and free of violence.
In closing Keat Chhon, a member of the CPP, said the commune elections would be safe because the two coalition partners signed an agreement ensuring free and fair elections.