Following weeks of international diplomacy, government and resistance forces agreed on Friday to a ceasefire, officials said.
If the agreement holds, it would bring to an end hostilities that started July 5-6, and also fulfill step one of the four-point Japanese Initiative that could allow deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh to compete in the coming elections.
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen responded favorably to Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s call early Friday for a unilateral cease-fire, government officials said.
Both Khieu Kanharith, Information Ministry secretary of state, and Muth Khiev, a top Hun Sen adviser, said Friday that the second prime minister endorsed the ceasefire plan.
Muth Khieu said Friday afternoon the government had drafted a favorable reaction to the cease-fire announcement, but it would not be released until an official statement from the prince was received. The cease-fire call received Friday had no signature, he pointed out.
Muth Khieu said RCAF Chief of General Staff Ke Kim Yan had drafted the favorable response and sent it to the Japanese Embassy which was pleased with its contents. Japanese Embassy officials could not be reached.
Prince Ranariddh’s early Friday statement called on soldiers loyal to him to stop fighting at midnight Friday.
“To end the suffering of the Cambodian people and to prepare for the up coming general election in July 1998…I call on the RCAF loyal to me to declare a unilateral cease-fire over Cambodia,” the faxed statement read.
However, the prince reserved the right for troops loyal to him to defend themselves if RCAF forces continued to fight.
The prince cited the desires of King Norodom Sihanouk, the EU, Asean and the Thai and Japanese governments as influential in his decision to call the cease-fire.
Prince Ranariddh also proposed the establishment of a committee “to monitor the truce, with the assistance of international observers,” the statement said.
One senior military official said he was adopting a “wait-and-see attitude” before determining if the prince’s call is genuine.
“We need proof,” Chum Sambath, an under secretary of state at the Defense Ministry, said. “We believe [the prince] cannot say [this] by himself. He’s not in control of O’Smach.”
Chum Sambath said top resistance leader General Nheik Bun Chhay was in charge of the forces in O’Smach, where his troops have held out against the RCAF since July.
Military officials in Battambang province said Friday sporadic fighting continued in the northwestern province of Banteay Meanchey, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.
The cease-fire declaration follows a recent proposal from Japan that would allow the prince to contest the July 26 elections. The Tokyo Initiative, which has the backing of the international community, calls for an end to the fighting and for the troops loyal to the prince to rejoin the government army.
The plan also calls for the prince to cut all ties with the Khmer Rouge, and for the government to insure criminal charges against the prince are settled in time for an amnesty to be granted allowing the prince to run. Prince Ranariddh denied in Bangkok earlier this week having any links with the rebels based in Anlong Veng.
Hun Sen challenged the prince to follow through on fulfilling the terms of the Japanese Initiative.
“We welcome the declaration of a cease-fire,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur quoted Hun Sen as saying Friday. “Now just reintegrate the soldiers. This is part of the Japanese proposal.”
Top resistance commander General Nhiek Bun Chhay earlier this week called for Hun Sen to face charges of colluding with the Khmer Rouge, claiming the second prime minister negotiated illegally with Pailin-based rebels before it was legal to do so.
Hun Sen responded Friday by saying exiled politicians who say he must cut off ties with the Pailin-based rebels before they cut off ties with Anlong Veng are the same ones who signed the accord that allowed the Pailin rebels into the government.
(Additional Reporting by Agence France-Presse)