To cut the budget with help from Hanoi

By , W. Scott Thompson, former research professor at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University, is a visiting scholar at Harvard's Center for International Affairs.

Jimmy Carter and the Congress want to pare not only next year's budget but this year's, too, so as to quench inflation's fires. For starters, they might consider cutting 85 percent of the roughly $50 million worth of relief supplies now going to Kampuchea (Cambodia).

Would that be the cruelest cut of all to the long-suffering Cambodians, after a decade of civil war culminated by genocide and invasion? Not at all, on the assumption that the American people do not really want to help the Vietnamese export revolution among our friends in Southeast Asia. For, according to defectors to Thailand from the Vietnamese army, 85 percent of allm international humanitarian food assistance donated through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or other international relief channels to Kampuchea is being diverted by the Vietnamese for their own use. This information has come to both the royal Thai government and our own State Department.

How much American money is involved? As of late 1979 the US had spent $20, 403,684 and had shipped -- or was in the process of providing -- $25 million worth of PL-480 commodities in response to World Food Program requests for Kampuchean relief. Of this, $28,600,600 was expended for food relief destined for shipment to Kampuchea (as opposed to funds for Khmer relief in Thailand). All American relief funds go through the UN High Commissioner for distribution to Kampuchea.

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About 15 percent of the humanitarian food assistance provided by international relief agencies, and unloaded at Ho Chi Minh City, is being shipped to Phnom Penh for distribution within Kampuchea to the Khmer. Moreover, much of the UNHCR rice for the Khmer is being replaced with wheat by the Vietnamese before being shipped to Phnom Penh. Vietnamese defectors consistently report that the Vietnamese and their puppets, the Heng Samrin authorities, are grossly exaggerating the problems of distribution of relief supplies with Kampuchea. Logistics and transport cannot be that bad, given the Vietnamese ability to maintain more than 20 division of Peoples Army of Vietnam (PAVN) troops within Kampuchea.

In western Kampuchea the PAVN occupiers ("Front 479") have established checkpoints to seize all international food, clothing, and medical aid. According to reports, the PAVN 75th division has seized roughly 25 to 30 tons of rice per day since the order was issued on Feb. 24, 1979. The PAVN regiments, permitted to retain a portion of the rice for their own consumption, turn the remainder of the confiscated relief materials over to the Rear Service Logistic Unit in Siem Reap for distribution to other PAVN units. In December and January all rice supplies of the PAVN 75th division came from international relief organizations. In addition, vita mins, cooking oils, fish sauce, and other consumable products have all been obtained by seizures made by the 75th division.

The diversion fo international relief supplies goes further. Some of it unloaded at Ho Chi Minh City is now being diverted to Laos for distribution there -- ostensibly as Soviet economic assistance, according to reports from Bangkok. UNHCR rice and other khmer relief shipments are now being diverted to Vientiane and Savannakhet by the Vietnamese authorities.

What is the United States doing about this? I talked to Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of state for East Asian Affairs, who made a trip to the refugee camps in Thailand two months ago. Mr. Holbrooke conceded that some diversion and stockpiling of relief supplies was going on -- and by the PAVN. He pointed out that the US representative at the UN was under instructions to raise the question of relief "end use" as a high priority item. He also conceded that food was "a weapon" in the war in Cambodia, and that much more pressure on Vietnam was needed. but he argued that one got "a range of answers" when one queried refugees on the amount of diversion and stockpiling of relief supplies which goes on; my sources indicate much more agreement. Mr. Holbrooke claimed that American pressure on the UNHCR and the Thai government cleared many obstacles to the establishment of refugee camps inside Thailand, saving many lives -- "800,00 in Thailand, a million in western Cambodia," he said.

The real question is how credible American pressure on Vietnam is. The Carter administration came to power committed to establishing diplomatic relations with Hanoi, and Mr. Holbrooke expended considerable energy to that end , despite the appalling human rights record compiled by the regime at it drove Chinese and dissidents into the sea and then invaded neighboring Kampuchea. One wonders whether Hanoi might be willing to bend more, if American pressure were as compelling as that, say, on South Korea to "mend" its standards on human rights. The comparison is absurd, given the tiny number of political prisoners the South Korean regime has held -- yet the fact remains that it is on South Korea that the administration applied its pressure.

Hanoi has long experience in letting America make concessions to it. Perhaps it is time to tell it that we will, at the least, no longer help it feed its armies while they invade and occupy peaceful neighboring countries, especially when that food was intended for long-suffering women and children. Cruelty has gone far enough. And while we were at it, we would cool our inflation down just a tiny bit too.

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