PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Premier Hun Sen declared Monday that he is willing to deal directly with Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan to seek a political settlement of the Cambodian war.
"We will allow the Khmer Rouge party to have a role to play in the negotiations and a role to play in the solution," the premier of the Vietnamese-backed government said in an interview in his offices in Phnom Penh.
Previously, the Communist Cambodian government had indicated that it would meet with Khmer Rouge officials only as individuals, not as representatives of the ousted regime that held Cambodia under brutal control from 1975 to 1979.
Hun Sen said, however, that his government, installed by the Vietnamese invasion that toppled the Khmer Rouge, still will refuse to meet with Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, two other Khmer Rouge leaders. "Our (government) tribunal has already condemned Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, " he said.
He pointed out that Khieu Samphan is the vice president of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia), the resistance front that has carried on a guerrilla war against the Phnom Penh government since it came to power in 1979.
Hun Sen said he would welcome negotiations with Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the resistance coalition president; Son Sann, its prime minister, and Khieu Samphan. "They can come together, all three or just one--that's enough for us," he declared.
"The Pol Pot regime has left upon us only suffering, destruction and separation," Hun Sen said. "Right now, the major object to reconstruction is the war. Our enemies get together to oppose us, inside and outside the country. But they must realize they cannot strangle us to death.
"So, right now what is most important is to find a solution to put an end to the situation of war, which has lasted for 17 years (since Sihanouk's government was overturned by Lon Nol, his premier, during the turbulence of the Vietnam War)."
Cambodia and Vietnam have tried in the past to cause divisions within the resistance coalition. Hun Sen's direct appeal to Khieu Samphan could have this effect.
In Hun Sen's view of a meeting, "we can talk about anything. We can discuss the form of government, the constitution, the foreign policy. . . ." He said such talks could be held at a neutral site, suggesting the Australian capital of Canberra, Paris or Stockholm.