Cambodian Factions Step Back from Brink of Renewed Civil War Signs of Compromise from Khmer Rouge Are Breathing New Life into Peace Process

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THE royalist party and the onetime Communist regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen have set aside hostilities from 13 years of civil war to move toward uniting Cambodia, agreeing on an interim government and pressuring Khmer Rouge guerrillas to rejoin the peace process.

The 120-member constituent assembly elected in May was expected to approve the provisional government later this week, government and royalist party officials say. If the list of ministers is accepted, it would be one of several incremental steps to avert a possible breakdown in security amid the political feuding that followed the country's first multiparty balloting in 21 years.

The agreement on the interim government came as all the major wartime foes - including the radical Khmer Rouge - signaled willingness to compromise, government officials say. This would breathe new life into the United Nations-brokered peace plan for Cambodia that has neared collapse several times.

The moves toward unity also have extended to the military. Leaders of the Army under command of the Hun Sen government, and of two armies that had battled to oust him, agreed in early June to work together to form a unified fighting force.

Leaders of the three Cambodian armies, acting under UN auspices, also have invited the Khmer Rouge to join a unified military, UN spokesman Michael Williams said last week. That is a major step toward reconciliation that underscores the importance Cambodian leaders place on trying to entice the Khmer Rouge back into the peace process. The radical communist movement, which ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s, is blamed for the deaths of at least 1 million Cambodians.

The military leaders did not give the UN specific conditions for the Khmer Rouge to meet, though they would likely demand that the guerrillas give up control of the 20 percent of the country's territory now in Khmer Rouge-ruled zones.

On Wednesday, Khmer Rouge guerrillas in two northwestern Cambodian provinces - Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchay - told UN peacekeeping troops that they wanted to join the country's armed forces, UN military spokesman Lt. Col. John Weiland said. The Khmer Rouge representatives also said they would open their territory to the international peacekeepers.

Even officials with Hun Sen's government who had sworn there could be no legitimate place in Cambodian politics for the Khmer Rouge are taking a more conciliatory approach.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith says the Cambodian People's Party would agree to include the Khmer Rouge in the armed forces if the group showed "positive signs for national reconciliation."

Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh - head of the royalist party known by the acronym FUNCINPEC and son of head of state Prince Norodom Sihanouk - will serve as copresidents in the transitional leadership until the newly elected assembly writes a constitution and forms a new government. …