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REBELS SAY END OF U.S. RECOGNITION COULD STRENGTHEN KHMER ROUGE

SHARE REBELS SAY END OF U.S. RECOGNITION COULD STRENGTHEN KHMER ROUGE

Angry non-communist Cambodian guerrillas say the withdrawal of U.S. recognition, though intended to spur a peaceful settlement, could force them closer to China and strengthen the feared Khmer Rouge.

China indicated Thursday that it had no intention of joining the United States and would continue aiding the Khmer Rouge, the strongest fighting force in the tripartite resistance coalition.Coalition leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk called the U.S. move "an act of serious injustice" and appealed to all governments to keep Washington from trying to strip the coalition of Cambodia's seat in the United Nations.

The coalition now will be "more firm and fierce in their determination to continue to resist," he said in a statement from North Korea's capital of Pyongyang, where he lives part of the year.

However, Sihanouk's son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh - commander of the forces loyal to his father - said in Bangkok Wednesday he did not object to the new U.S. policy as long as U.S. funding for non-communist rebel groups continued.

Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, ending a four-year reign of terror by a Khmer Rouge that tried to force a radical agrarian commune on the population, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

The government it installed has been battling insurgents for 11 years. The war has widened in recent months, with the Khmer Rouge scoring a string of victories.

Reflecting fears of a Khmer Rouge takeover, the Bush administration announced Wednesday that it was withdrawing recognition of the resistance coalition and opening a dialogue with Vietnam on resolving the war.

Peace talks have foundered, with the guerrilla coalition rejecting the wish of the Hanoi-backed government of Prime Minister Hun Sen to remain in power during a transitional period before elections.

The guerrillas want to share power or have the United Nations assume authority - and Sihanouk and the head of the third rebel faction, former Prime Minister Son Sann, have refused to abandon the Khmer Rouge.

They say the Khmer Rouge would only fight on if left out of a settlement.

Sihanouk said the U.S. move will only perpetuate the rule of a government that is "a creature and creation" of Vietnam.

The Vietnamese say they withdrew all their troops in September, but there is evidence Vietnamese soldiers remain and are supporting government forces against the rebels.

In Beijing Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jin Guihua said all Cambodian factions must be included in any politicial settlement.

"So long as Vietnam does not withdraw all its troops from Cambodia, China will continue to support the Cambodian people in their resistance against the foreign invaders," he told a news conference.

Jin did not specificially mention Chinese aid to the Khmer Rouge, but China is known to be its main weapons supplier.

He refused to answer questions about whether the U.S. change in policy would prompt Beijing to increase aid to the Khmer Rouge.

Thailand also has not indicated it will decrease its military aid to the guerrillas. It provides sanctuary and logistical, intelligence and other support.

"We do not see the U.S. shift decreasing the power of the Khmer Rouge," said a Thai analyst involved in the aid program.

"It will affect them politically but not military and might push them to concentrate on a military solution," said the official, who insisted he not be named.