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Cambodia welcomed the start of the U.N. peacekeeping operation with a parade and speeches Monday, and Prince Norodom Sihanouk said his country can start convalescing from two decades of war.

Sihanouk, chairman of the reconciliation council set up under the peace accord signed by Cambodia's four warring factions, spoke at ceremonies for U.N. envoy Yasushi Akashi of Japan, who arrived Sunday to formally begin the U.N. mission.Meanwhile, 11 Cambodians left refugee camps in Thailand to observe conditions in western Cambodia in preparation for U.N.-supervised repatriations set to begin at the end of March.

Jahanshah Ahshadi, chief representative at the border of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the visit would help build confidence among the 370,000 refugees who fled Cambodia's 13-year-old civil war. U.N. officials said they expected about 10,000 Cambodians to be returned in April.

Leaders of the four Cambodian factions and the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia met to formally convene the Supreme National Council, the reconciliation body that is to administer the country until elections in 1993.

Bands, scores of diplomats, Cambodian leaders and U.N. military contingents from 13 countries gathered outside the royal palace to greet Akashi.

"You have arrived today in an impoverished land," Sihanouk said. "The Cambodian people who have suffered so unjustly over two decades today begin their convalescence."

Most of Cambodia's 8 million people have never known peace. The overthrow of Sihanouk in a military coup in 1970 ushered in 21 years of conflict and turmoil in which hundreds of thousands died. Many people fled the country.

Akashi said the U.N. mission is to help Cambodia build a society based on political freedom and multiparty democracy.

The U.N.-mediated peace accord was signed in Paris last October by leaders of three guerrilla groups and the Vietnamese-installed government that have fought since 1978.