Heather M. O'Brien. Heather M. O'Brien, an affiliate of the East Asian Institute, Columbia University, was formerly Un helping develop programs ., The Christian Science Monitor
THE United Nations has launched its largest peacekeeping operation in history, the UN Transition Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), despite major budget problems. Security Council donors cannot afford the UN's potentially greatest success to become its biggest failure, nor deny Cambodia its first democratic elections and its best chance at peace.
The race against the May monsoon season is on; a budget crunch delayed deployment of the 22,000 UN contingent for the 18-month, $1.9 billion operation. UNTAC must be deployed now if it is to succeed in its tasks: monitoring the cease-fire, demobilizing and cantoning the four warring military forces, supervising the existing Phnom Penh government, and organizing elections.
The repatriation of more than 380,000 displaced Cambodians from camps in Thailand started late last month, despite renewed fighting, banditry, lawlessness, and uncleared land mines. The primary security threat to Cambodians and UN personnel is hundreds of thousands of unmapped mines that inflicted more injuries during Cambodia's 12-year war than any other weapon.
The task of repatriating and resettling more than 500,000 Cambodians displaced from their homes is riddled with challenges: from land-rights conflicts between landlords occupying the past homes of returnees, to questions of overlapping mandates between various UN agencies, such as who will pay to feed and resettle demobilized troops not considered refugees.
Disarming 200,000 soldiers and 250,000 militia personnel, and gathering more than 300,000 weapons from guerrilla forces that traditionally melt into villages and hide in isolated mountains is no easy task. UN troops must be free to investigate for hidden militia and arms caches - a right which Khmer Rouge already denies UN forces.
To save cantonment expenses, the UN would like 100 percent demobilization, but as that is tantamount to surrender, Prime Minister Hun Sen politely refused. To maintain the largest military base as a post-election insurance policy, guerrillas are quietly moving military families inside Cambodia, calling it "voluntary demobilization."
Setting a peacekeeping precedent, the UN will place the five key ministries of the Phnom Penh government under the "direct control" of UNTAC civil administrators. While the coalition Supreme National Council enshrines Cambodian sovereignty, for the first time an international organization will supervise and control the functioning of a sovereign state to maintain a level political playing field. UNTAC won't have even a skeletal state to run unless it gets there soon to maintain basics like electricity and communications. …