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Vietnam helps Cambodia join ASEAN 20 years after foray.

HANOI, Dec. 9 Kyodo

Two decades after sending troops into Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge, Vietnam is again extending its neighbor a helping hand, not with guns this time but by supporting its bid to join ASEAN on the eve of the group's summit in Hanoi. ''As the host country of the sixth ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit, Vietnam has been trying its best to achieve a consensus among ASEAN on the admission of Cambodia before or during the summit for the sake of peace, stability and development in Southeast Asia,'' Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai said in a statement released in Hanoi last week. ''Vietnam, as a close neighbor of Cambodia, always supports Cambodia to become an official member of ASEAN at an early date,'' Khai said. The premier said conditions for Cambodia's admission are ''completely ripe,'' pointing to the establishment of a new Cambodian government headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and the country's preparation and desire to join the regional group. By voicing Vietnam's support, Khai became the first ASEAN head of government to reply to a Dec. 2 letter from Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk asking the leaders of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam to admit Cambodia into ASEAN. Vietnam, together with Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar, is now at the forefront of those pushing for Cambodia's admission this month while the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand have been taking a wait-and-see attitude in view of Cambodia's political situation. Decisions in ASEAN are taken by consensus. In early February 1979, Vietnam sent troops into Cambodia in retaliation for cross-border attacks by the Khmer Rouge, overthrowing the Chinese-backed regime and installing a pro-Hanoi government. The invasion triggered Vietnam's international isolation, which lasted for a decade until Vietnam withdrew its last troops from Cambodia in 1989. ''It may be dangerous for Southeast Asia if Cambodia, now left isolated, sides with China or the United States,'' said a leading Vietnamese analyst on the condition of anonymity. ''So it's best for ASEAN to take Cambodia in to have all countries in the region in one block.'' As a next-door neighbor of Cambodia, Vietnam would also benefit from the country's admission into ASEAN in terms of security, the analyst said, pointing to bilateral problems on the borders and territories, and on the life of about 500,000 ethnic Vietnamese living among the 11.4 million population of Cambodia. A veteran who lost a leg from a land mine explosion during Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia expressed hope relations between Vietnam and Cambodia, which have long been clouded by distrust, will be strengthened after the country's admission. ''That's why I have hope there would be no more war between the two countries, and my children and grandchildren would not have to suffer as I did during the Cambodia war,'' he said. The analyst said Cambodia's admission would help ''ease extremist nationalist attitudes'' in Cambodia. He was referring to various attacks often targeted on ethnic Vietnamese there, especially before or after major political events such as last July's general election. Cambodia, the only Southeast Asian nation not in ASEAN, had been initially scheduled for admission in July last year along with Laos and Myanmar, but its admission was suspended indefinitely after Hun Sen ousted Prince Norodom Ranariddh as his co-premier earlier the same month. Cambodian Ambassador to Vietnam Nuon Sareth told a press conference in Hanoi that Cambodia may decline to attend the Dec. 15-16 Hanoi summit as an observer if it is not admitted as a full member. ''If Vietnam succeeds in bringing Cambodia into ASEAN, its political prestige would be improved in the regional and international arenas,'' the analyst said, pointing to the merit of helping ease tension in one of the world's most intractable and complicated hot spots. ''I don't understand much about politics, but surely Vietnam would have more friends and brothers after Cambodia's admission,'' the veteran said. ''And this is good for Vietnam's economic development in the near future.'' The analyst, however, was not so optimistic about the immediate and direct economic impact of the Cambodia's admission on the economies of Vietnam and the region because Cambodia's economy remains at the lowest level in the region as a result of lingering armed conflict in the country. ''Cambodia's economy can't create a momentum, but will only be a burden for the development of the region's economy, which is now experiencing a crisis,'' the analyst said. He said with Cambodia's admission, it would be easier for ASEAN to decide on the orientation of its economic development as the group would include all 10 countries in the region. Cambodia's admission as the 10th member, however, remained in question as ASEAN on Tuesday began a series of meetings in Hanoi. ''This is a political decision that has to be made by the ministers,'' ASEAN Secretary General Rodolfo Severino told reporters at the outset of a two-day meeting of ASEAN senior officials. ASEAN foreign ministers will meet later this week.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Geographic Code:9CAMB
Date:Dec 14, 1998
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