Prince Norodom Sihanouk drank champagne toasts today with ambassadors to the Cambodian coalition government he heads and vowed to continue fighting the Vietnamese occupation of his country for generations if necessary.
Accompanied by his wife, Monique, and a retinue that included his fluffy white toy spaniel, Sihanouk greeted Khmer Rouge leaders attired in suits and ties during his visit to this jungle village in an embattled corner of western Cambodia.
By taking the risk of entering a potential battle zone in Vietnam's current dry-season offensive to carry out government ceremonies on Cambodian soil, Sihanouk aimed to buttress his resistance coalition's stature as the U.N.-recognized government of Cambodia. The ceremonies of accepting the credentials of ambassadors from Senegal, North Korea, Bangladesh and Mauritania went off without a hitch, and only an occasional faint boom of artillery could be heard in the distance.
But it was clear, despite the flights of rhetoric, that the three-party resistance coalition's "liberated zone" is shrinking before this season's Vietnamese onslaught and that only the hardened Khmer Rouge are engaged in significant operations inside the country.
Since November, Vietnamese occupation forces have overrun every major noncommunist resistance settlement on the Cambodian side of the border with Thailand, dealing setbacks to the Khmer People's National Liberation Front led by Son Sann. Now, the Vietnamese have turned their forces against the communist Khmer Rouge, launching a pincers attack from the south and east aimed at its Phnom Malai base area.
Khmer Rouge leaders were reluctant to give details of the current fighting, but they denied reports from Thai military sources that battles are going on about nine miles to the east in the hills of Phnom Mak Hoeun.
Khieu Samphan, the titular Khmer Rouge leader and vice president of Sihanouk's resistance coalition, claimed that his guerrillas were doing "better than last dry season" by counterattacking the Vietnamese.
Upon his arrival at this Khmer Rouge-run village, Sihanouk walked past about 100 guerrillas bearing new Chinese-made rifles, greeted a crowd of civilians and presented several hundred dollars to a group of saffron-robed Buddhist monks.
"We will go on fighting the Vietnamese aggressors until we succeed in liberating 100 percent of our homeland," Sihanouk told the crowd. He said all Cambodians would then live and prosper "as one family."
Sihanouk told reporters later that China, which strongly backs the Khmer Rouge and gave Vietnam a "lesson" by invading briefly in 1979 after the Vietnamese attacked Cambodia, had assured him of continued support.
"China will teach Vietnam a second lesson," he said, "and after the second lesson there will be a third lesson."
Sihanouk also said the Khmer Rouge have "changed" since their brutal rule from 1975 to 1979.
"The people of Cambodia support not only Son Sann and Sihanouk, but they also support the Khmer Rouge," he told reporters. "Otherwise, you can't explain why they are so strong."