JAKARTA, Indonesia — Long-stalled negotiations aimed at ending Cambodia's civil war opened under an ominous cloud Sunday, with the Phnom Penh government presenting the three-faction opposition coalition with a call for a war crimes tribunal that threatened to derail the talks from the outset.
The target of the call is one of the three factions in the opposition, the Communist Khmer Rouge, accused of "genocide" while it held power in Cambodia. And Phnom Penh's demands include the ultimate banishment from politics of two Khmer Rouge representatives here for the peace talks.
Some observers saw Phnom Penh's action as simply an opening ploy in the talks, and Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas noted, "We're under no illusions about how difficult this meeting is." Alatas is co-hosting the talks with French Deputy Foreign Minister Alain Vivien.
The meeting brought the factions fighting in Cambodia together for the first time since September to discuss implementation of a proposed peace agreement worked out by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in August, 1990.
At a meeting in Jakarta last year, the four Cambodian groups agreed to the establishment of a Supreme National Council, which, under the draft peace plan, would govern Cambodia until a permanent government is chosen in a U.N.-supervised election. But the nascent council was able to meet only once before breaking up in a procedural wrangle over its composition.
That dispute seemed closer to settlement Sunday after a luncheon meeting between Phnom Penh's premier, Hun Sen, and deposed Prince Norodom Sihanouk, leader of the opposition triumvirate. The two agreed that Sihanouk would become chairman of the council and Hun Sen would be deputy chairman, with each side maintaining numerical equality on the panel.
The council, initially made up of 12 members, would be increased to 14, with seven members each from the Phnom Penh government and the opposition coalition. The coalition's members, besides Sihanouk, would number two from each of the coalition factions: the Khmer Rouge and two non-Communist organizations.
Sihanouk is chief of one of the non-Communist groups, and former Cambodian Premier Son Sann heads the other.
Diplomats said the Khmer Rouge might balk at the new leadership structure, and since the Supreme Council is supposed to operate by consensus, the Khmer Rouge could veto any change.
The present Phnom Penh government was installed in 1979 when a Vietnamese invasion ousted the Khmer Rouge from power after a four-year reign of terror in which an estimated 1 million Cambodians were killed.
Since May 1, the four parties have adhered to a cease-fire requested by France and Indonesia in hopes of improving the atmosphere leading up to the current talks. While the truce is generally holding, the Phnom Penh government came to Jakarta hoping to substantially alter the draft U.N. peace agreement.
Hun Sen said he is proposing an international tribunal, along the lines of the Nuremberg court that tried Nazi war criminals at the end of World War II, to investigate those responsible for the Cambodian "genocide." Those convicted would be excluded from future government under the proposal, he said.
In addition, Phnom Penh has demanded that 12 top Khmer Rouge leaders be barred from taking part in elections and that the Khmer Rouge's political apparatus as well as its military forces be disbanded. Those 12 include Khieu Samphan and Son Sen, the Khmer Rouge's two delegates to the peace talks here.
"The issue of genocide is the first priority," Hun Sen told reporters when he arrived in Jakarta on Saturday.
Phnom Penh's demand runs counter to the Security Council proposal, which calls for all four parties to participate in free elections. One diplomat called Hun Sen's statement at the start of the talks "provocative" but cautioned that it may simply represent jockeying before the actual bargaining begins.
Phnom Penh has also questioned the Security Council plan's call for taking the guns away from all four factions in Cambodia. It has argued that while Phnom Penh's troops are mainly in the cities and towns, Khmer Rouge guerrillas have stockpiled weapons in the jungles and can never be effectively disarmed.
Instead, Hun Sen has proposed segregating the various military groups into small "cantonments." These would be under U.N. control but, under Hun Sen's proposal, they would retain their weapons in case of renewed fighting.
Many diplomats believe the military issue is the real sticking point in the talks and that the genocide issue is played up by Phnom Penh largely because it generates significant sympathy in the West.