In retrospect, it was inevitable that the UN's attempt to implement the Paris agreements would run into difficulties. The objectives of the CPP and the Khmer Rouge remained incompatible: both only signed the accord under strong international pressure and in the hope that they could twist its ambiguities to their advantage. The CPP hoped that the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and the Supreme National Council (SNC) – the quadripartite body set up to represent Cambodia's sovereignty and promote reconciliation – would be toothless bodies whose presence would simply legitimise the SoC structure. The Khmer Rouge hoped that a strong UNTAC and SNC would significantly weaken the SoC's control over the country. They could not both be right.
In the event, the problems arrived far sooner than UNTAC itself, which was charged with overseeing implementation of the Paris agreements and was only fully deployed in mid-1992. The agreements, signed on 23 October 1991, unleashed a rapid series of events which included a short-lived alliance between the CPP and FUNCINPEC (see box): the near-lynching of Khmer Rouge president, Khieu Samphan, by a CPP-organised mob on his arrival in Phnom Penh and the crushing of student demonstrations against SoC corruption. Meanwhile, UNTAC's arrival was delayed due to financial and bureaucratic hold-ups and the US Congress' continued to object to Khmer Rouge involvement.
Accord between the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC)
In view of effectively implementing the Agreement on a political settlement and promoting mutual trust;
In view of maintaining political stability in Cambodia and creating conditions favouring the accomplishment of His Royal Highness Samdech Norodom Sihanouk's noble mission in the service of the nation;
The Cambodian People's Party represented by H.E. Mr Hun Sen, and the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia, represented by H.R.H. Prince Norodom Ranariddh, have agreed as follows:
Article 1: The two parties agree to cooperate fully in creating conditions favouring the accomplishment of H.R.H. Samdech Norodom Sihanouk's mission in service of the nation. The two parties pledge to support H.R.H. Samdech Norodom Sihanouk's candidature in the forthcoming presidential elections in Cambodia.
Article 2: The two parties agree to refrain from attacking each other from this day on and during the electoral campaign. The two parties pledge to make the necessary efforts to honour this commitment.
Article 3: The two parties agree to cooperate in the future National Assembly, and to do so regardless of the number of seats obtained by each party in the National Assembly, and to form a coalition government based on the supreme interests of the nation.
Article 4: The two parties agree to build on this cooperation to lay a solid basis for realising national reconciliation and contributing to social stability.
Article 5: This accord, which is the fruit of sincere goodwill, represents the basis for cooperation between the two political forces at the present time and in the future.
Article 6: Upon signature of this accord, the two parties will name their respective representatives to consult and resolve together any problems which might arise during its implementation.
Signed in Phnom Penh, 20 November 1991
In the name of FUNCINPEC, Norodom Ranariddh
In the name of the CPP, Hun Sen
From Pol Pot's perspective, an American plot was being hatched to divert the quadripartite Paris agreements into a bipartite (CPP-FUNCINPEC) accord, through which western aid would sustain the SoC structures and fund them to destroy the Khmer Rouge. Subsequent events over 1992 and 1993 – particularly UNTAC's failure to control the SoC structure and the creation of a CPP-FUNCINPEC coalition government after the elections – only confirmed Pol Pot in his analysis. Beginning in January 1992, the Khmer Rouge thus grew increasingly sceptical of the peace process: it renounced the ceasefire, refused to disarm, ended cooperation with UNTAC, boycotted the elections and eventually launched an unsuccessful military campaign to derail the elections. But the Khmer Rouge's actions – which it justified by UNTAC's alleged refusal to implement the agreements' provisions on verifying withdrawal of Vietnamese forces and controlling the SoC structure – ironically served to make implementation harder and the CPP stronger.
First, the Khmer Rouge's renunciation of the ceasefire meant that the demobilisation of the other factions was suspended. All sides ended up retaining most of their men and weapons in the post-UNTAC era. This particularly favoured the CPP whose army was easily the largest. The continued Khmer Rouge attacks also made it easier – politically and practically – for the CPP to use violence against the 'opposition' parties as they sought to organise within SoC-controlled areas. Some 100 members of FUNCINPEC and the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP, the principal successor to the KPLNF) were killed in CPP-organised violence in 1992-93.
Second, given the continuing fighting, the Supreme National Council (SNC) failed to become a substantive institution or build reconciliation between the factions which – despite the gradual proliferation of alternative political parties, newspapers and non-governmental organisations – remained the key political players. This failure of reconciliation was not surprising. The factional leaders were never truly committed to burying their differences which instead were accentuated and even deepened by the process of electoral competition.
Third, the de facto withdrawal of the Khmer Rouge from the peace process weakened UNTAC's ability to take action against the CPP. UNTAC did not have the military capacity or international backing to compel the Khmer Rouge to abide by the agreements; the Security Council contented itself with imposing token trade sanctions. But this also meant that UNTAC could do even less against the CPP's similarly systematic, but significantly less gross violations. Moreover, once the UN had invested its resources and credibility in Cambodia, it needed the CPP more than the other way around. With the Khmer Rouge out, UNTAC needed the remaining factions in order for there to be a peace process at all, in particular the CPP which controlled almost all of the territory on which UNTAC was deployed.
Against this background, it was impossible for the UN to implement its mandate to ensure a 'neutral political environment' for the elections. The CPP maintained its tight control of the bureaucracy, army, police, media and judiciary and used them systematically to support its electoral campaign. FUNCINPEC and the KPLNF were little different in the much smaller zones along the Thai-Cambodian border which they administered. Although aware of this, the UN lacked the margin for manoeuvre and the political backing of member countries to do much about it. The end-result was that almost nothing was done to remove key state structures from factional domination. For the same reasons, despite gathering evidence of widespread human rights abuses, UNTAC could not penetrate the wall of official impunity.
UNTAC did have major successes, particularly where it could do things itself – such as repatriating 350,000 refugees, promoting human rights awareness and organising the elections. In the longer perspective, the mere presence of 22,000 well-paid UN personnel throughout Cambodia greatly accelerated the fledgling process of economic and political liberalisation. But UNTAC's mandate, organisation and resources were designed for a peacekeeping rather than a peace implementation operation: where the factions refused to implement their commitments, UNTAC ultimately decided it could not force them into compliance.