Cambodian Referendum in Question in Historical General Assembly

BY YENA SEO, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

For the past few days, the Historical General Assembly has been drafting working papers to address the Vietnamese military occupation of Cambodia. In January, the United Nations Security Council failed to pass a resolution because of a veto from the Soviet Union, and, as a result, China invaded Vietnam in retaliation on Feb. 17, 1979.

Despite the presence of Cambodia and other relevant actors in the committee, the committee has remained divided on tangible solutions to address the escalating conflict in Southeast Asia, and the working papers have been very different in the content presented.

One working paper led by Canada, in cooperation with other moderate Western nations, sought to create a timeline to establish peace in the region. The paper was to first achieve a ceasefire between the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Chinese militaries, and to form a peace agreement between the three countries. Short-term humanitarian aid would then be provided by the UN to the region to promote peace and stability.

Canada emphasized the idea of having a referendum for the Cambodian people so they could vote on their government. The referendum proposed would be overseen by the UN Cambodian Observation Group, composed of UN officials picked by the Secretary-General.

“We need to allow the people of Cambodia the right to self-determination and make sure that the sovereignty of nations is respected,” the delegate from Canada said. “The international community, however, should assist in this process.”

Other countries, such as Denmark, disagreed with Canada’s approach. The delegation from Denmark drafted a working paper with many non-partisan Western nations that stressed the limits of the General Assembly and giving humanitarian aid through already-established, local community groups.

Denmark’s working paper also addressed the challenges of refugees and prisoners of war, and called for an armistice modeled after the 1949 armistice between Egypt and Israel.

“We are against a referendum because it is not the General Assembly’s mandate or responsibility, and a referendum is not feasible in terms of logistics nor enforcement,” the delegate from Denmark said. “This committee needs to seek and understand the limits of the General Assembly.”

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Delegates in the Historical General Assembly argue on the best approach to address the Cambodian conflict.

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