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Sihanouk, Cambodian Premier Confer

December 03, 1987|STANLEY MEISLER | Times Staff Writer

FERE-EN-TARDENOIS, France — Two opponents at war, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the former ruler of Cambodia, and Hun Sen, the present premier of Cambodia, met Wednesday in a secluded hotel in eastern France for negotiations aimed at leading their small Southeast Asian nation out of its bloody morass.

The talks, which many Cambodians described as historic, were the first such negotiations since Vietnam invaded Cambodia nine years ago. After the session ended almost seven hours later, there was muted optimism. No agreements were announced, but both sides said they will meet again today and perhaps on Friday.

They also announced that they will hold another round of negotiations sometime in the future at Sihanouk's home in Pyongyang in North Korea.

An aide to Premier Hun Sen told newsmen as the Cambodian government delegation left the hotel, "There has been an opening on the road to a genuine solution."

Hun Sen, who at 36 is perhaps the youngest premier in the world, said: "There has been a good result. We have not reached many agreements, but we work well together."

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the son of the 65-year-old Sihanouk and the chief of staff of his rebel army, described the talks as warm, friendly, honest and positive.

"Everyone said what they thought," he said, and although they did not agree on everything, "the climate is favorable."

The setting was extraordinary, almost romantic. The hotel was fashioned out of a Renaissance house that stands before the massive ruins of a great 13th-Century castle destroyed in the French Revolution. The area, 75 miles east of Paris, is not far from Chateau Thierry, the World War I battlefield.

The Cambodian problem is complex and confusing, but many observers are hopeful because they believe that Vietnam, which props up the Communist government of Cambodia, now realizes that there is no way out without trying to involve Sihanouk in the solution. He is still a force in Cambodia.

Hanoi Pledges Withdrawal

The Vietnamese invaded Cambodia at the end of 1978, ousted the tyrannical Khmer Rouge government of Pol Pot, and installed a dependent Cambodian government that Hun Sen now heads. Vietnam now has 140,000 troops in Cambodia but says it intends to withdraw them all by the end of 1990. Many analysts believe that the cost of the war has become too burdensome for Vietnam's economy.

With American and Chinese support, a rebel coalition was formed nine years ago to fight the Cambodian government, which has received very little diplomatic recognition. The resistance coalition included Sihanouk, who was deposed as head of state in 1970 but returned for a brief period as chief of state in 1975; Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge army, and Son Sann, the leader of Cambodian republicans.

The coalition maintains an estimated 60,000 guerrillas in the Cambodian border region, two-thirds of them under the Khmer Rouge, a third under Sihanouk and almost none under Son Sann.

Last May, Sihanouk took a year's leave of absence from the presidency of the coalition so that he could try to negotiate with the government in Cambodia. But he did not sever his association with his partners.

The Cambodian government had to accept some of Sihanouk's face-saving conditions before he would agree to meet with Hun Sen. In his communications with the prince, Hun Sen had to drop his title of premier and simply call himself monsieur . Moreover, he had to come to one of Sihanouk's favorite hotels, a place the prince regards as a kind of home in France.

Hun Sen flew into Paris on Tuesday after spending several days in Moscow. It is widely believed that the Soviet government wants a peaceful settlement of the Cambodian problem and has been pressuring Vietnam to withdraw as soon as possible.

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