The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to cut off funds for a decade-long covert aid program to the non-communist resistance (NCR) forces in Cambodia, according to congressional sources.
The vote was not close, according to one source, but more a "rolling consensus that the time had come" to end the aid, which has been variously estimated by some press reports to be as high as $25 million but by most sources as about $10 million in recent years.
Another fight -- over covert military shipments for rebel forces in Angola -- is looming as the result of a Bush administration proposal last week to give the U.S.-backed insurgent forces of Jonas Savimbi an additional infusion of weapons to be purchased with CIA contingency funds.
Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, protested that more military aid for Savimbi's forces would be "morally indefensible" in light of negotiations now under way in Portugal for a cease-fire in the conflict with the Marxist government in Luanda.
The Senate committee's action on Cambodia reflected a growing criticism of the aid program after persistent reports that a group led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk and another non-communist group were coordinating their military efforts with the third -- and by far the strongest -- member of their coalition, the Khmer Rouge, in the protracted Cambodian conflict. More than a million Cambodians died when the country was under Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 until the Vietnamese invaded in 1979.
The House Wednesday approved by a vote of 260 to 163 an overt aid program of $7 million to the NCR but said that no assistance could go to the Khmer Rouge. Under the House bill, aid to any NCR component that engages in "a pattern of military cooperation and coordination designed to assist the Khmer Rouge" is to be terminated.
One member of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), said on the House floor this week that there had been widespread reports that such cooperation has occurred.
A second concern, expressed in recent debates over covert aid to other countries, such as Afghanistan, is the use of secret funding for programs whose general contours are well known. Some members of Congress have said the secrecy inhibits full debate and that any such aid be given openly.
A House Intelligence Committee member who supports both covert and overt aid to Cambodia said he didn't anticipate any serious problem in the committee in approving another year of secret funding of logistical support and military training for the NCR. He cited the nearly 100-vote majority in the House for a $7 million program of non-lethal overt aid. A majority of the intelligence committee voted for that bill, he said.
But another member of the House panel said he thought there was a "50-50 chance" the committee will eliminate or sharply restrict covert aid. The House committee is expected to take up the matter in mid-July, he said.
The question facing the Bush administration and Cambodia aid supporters now is whether the Senate, where opposition to assistance to Cambodia is strongest, will go along with any House-passed aid proposal.
"The handwriting is on the wall for the Cambodia policy," a Senate aide said, at least for covert assistance and possibly the entire program. U.S. intelligence agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, have expressed concern about growing Khmer Rouge strength and repeatedly expressed doubts about the military effectiveness of the non-communist groups, the aide said.
Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) is now in the forefront of the opposition to supporting Sihanouk's forces. Mitchell recently called the administration's Cambodia policy "incredible. . . insupportable. It must be changed."
Mitchell said the Cold War thaw and the Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia last year "have destroyed the only rationale used to justify" an aid policy that "meant de facto support for the genocidal. . . Khmer Rouge."
The administration has argued that its policy is aimed at propping up the only viable non-communist forces against the Vietnamese-installed Phnom Penh government, which they say is headed by communists and former Khmer Rouge members.
On Angola, Washington lawyer Robert B. Washington Jr., who represents the Angolan government, said he understood the reprogramming request for more weapons for Savimbi in the current fiscal year would add $10 million to $15 million to about $80 million already in the 1990 budget for the UNITA rebels.
According to Washington, the Angolan government is willing to refrain from purchasing arms from any source and to order its troops to their barracks if the United States stops shipping arms to UNITA and makes sure that other nations do likewise. The Soviet Union has said it will stop arming Angola if the United States will stop arming UNITA.
Dellums asked the Senate and House intelligence committees in a letter to take no action on the proposal until the Black Caucus completes "an imminent fact-finding mission" to Angola.