UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stood firm Wednesday behind his body’s refusal to consider reopening negotiations with the Cambodian government to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice.
But diplomats in Phnom Penh said Thursday that Annan was wrong to imply only the UN, and not the Cambodian government, has come under international pressure.
The UN abruptly ended nearly five years of negotiations on Feb 8, claiming the Cambodian government was not being cooperative and it would be impossible to hold a trial that would meet international standards of justice.
Since then, many UN member states have criticized the decision, but the UN has stood firm.
“About a dozen ambassadors came to see me on this issue and said they felt we should reconsider,” Annan told a news conference in New York. “I advised them that it would be more effective if they made their demarche in Phnom Penh and got Prime Minister Hun Sen to change his position.”
Annan’s remark typified the stubbornness that has kept the two sides from reconciling, said US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann, a critic of the UN pullout.
“Both sides are blaming each other for the breakdown—that’s the definition of an impasse,” he said.
In addition, Annan seemed to be under the “misapprehension” that no pressure is being applied to the Cambodian side, Wiedemann said.
“All the countries whose ambassadors have appealed to Kofi Annan to ask the UN to reconsider its unilateral withdrawal from the negotiations have also been appealing to the Cambodian government, and are continuing to do so—we haven’t given up,” he said.
British Ambassador Stephen Bridges said responsibility for repairing the damaged relations lies with both sides. The British have been “encouraging” both the Cambodians and the UN “to take this forward,” Bridges said.
Ambassadors from several countries have been holding regular meetings on the issue in Phnom Penh “to coordinate our views and our appeals to the Cambodian government,” Wiedemann said.
The Cambodian government “has not responded positively” to these appeals, he added.
“The Cambodians seem to feel that [the pullout] wasn’t their fault, so it’s not their problem,” Wiedemann said. “They’re being prideful. They don’t see the ball as being in their court.”
Observers disagreed as to whose responsibility it is to make the next conciliatory gesture. Some said that since the UN ended the negotiations, the UN should start them again.
“The Cambodian government has said clearly that the door is still open for negotiations. It is the UN that must come back,” said a Chinese Embassy official who asked not to be named.
“It was the UN that made the decision to end negotiations with Cambodia. Now the Cambodian government is waiting for the UN to come back,” the official said.
But others said that since the UN made the last move, with Annan’s statement, Cambodia must make the next one.
“The UN has made a positive gesture; now the Cambodian government should make a positive gesture in return, so that both sides can come closer together,” Documentation Center of Cambodia head Youk Chhang said.
Annan’s statement was positive because it indicated the world body is still thinking about the issue, Youk Chhang said.