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Cambodia: diplomats still hold hopes for peace process

ELLEN FANNING: Well, there's a glimmer of optimism, tonight, for the future of peace in Cambodia. Privately, diplomats in the capital, Phnom Penh, are saying that the peace process has not yet totally broken down. There have been no reports today about breaks of fighting in the countryside. Our Indo-China correspondent, Nicholas Stuart, says that indicates there's still room for further negotiation with the Khmer Rouge. He's speaking with Michael Brissenden.

NICHOLAS STUART: Despite the collection of arms from 7,000 or so Hun Sen troops, there's been no fighting. The Khmer Rouge haven't used this as a chance to renew an offensive. As well as that, their radio has been very quiet. They're not stepping up the rhetoric the way they usually do. There's been no accusations on the radio, so that indicates that their statements are still very conciliatory, leaving open the possibility for a continued peace process.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, no-one, neither side, and nobody from any faction, is saying anything publicly today. What are the diplomats saying privately?

NICHOLAS STUART: Well, the diplomats aren't, of course, saying anything at all publicly. One of the reasons for this is they still don't know why the Khmer Rouge are halting, stalling the peace process. They also don't know how to meet those Khmer Rouge demands or concerns, if there are any. Nevertheless, they've indicated privately that as soon as they do find out why, they'll do their best to try and meet whatever concerns can be met without scuttling the whole peace process.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: If the negotiations do fail and the Khmer Rouge does opt out, what would that mean for the peace process or peace in Cambodia, generally?

NICHOLAS STUART: It would possibly mean one of a nu mber of options. There could be a government of national unity formed; that would give the various parties a real chance to get back, form something where there could be a compromise worked out, excluding the Khmer Rouge. A second option would be a military alliance which would be between the remaining three factions, and exclude the Khmer Rouge. Another option again would be some form .. instead of a chapter 6 UN resolution as it is at the moment with the peacekeeping, there could be a chapter 7 UN resolution, and that would be something more like the Iran-Iraq war, Korea, where you actually have UN peacekeepers in the country fighting to keep the peace. At the moment that looks very unlikely.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Obviously there's some way to go before any of those .. before we see any of that develop. What's the next step immediately?

NICHOLAS STUART: It is the aid and reconstruction conference in Tokyo; that's going ahead as planned. Even though the Khmer Rouge won't be there, Mr Akashi, the UN head in Cambodia, is leaving here tomorrow morning to go on that trip. With him will be the Australian Ambassador, and all the other people involved in the peace in Cambodia; so, aid and reconstruction of the country is very much going ahead; it's only a hiccup to the peace process.

ELLEN FANNING: Nicholas Stuart who's in Phnom Penh tonight.