Viet rebels pry at communist grip

Five year after communist victory in southern vietnam, there are growing signs of an anticommunist resistance. But analysts here stress the movement appears poorly organized and weak. There is, they add, a shortage of hard evidence as to how potent the forces may be.

Still, the rebels present a problem for the Hanoi leadership -- which is already beset by economic problems at home, a military confrontation with China, and a costly occupation of Cambodia.

Accounts of the resistance have come from Vietnamese authorities, Vietnamese refugees, and vietnam's opponents such as the China-backed Khmer Rouge.

Noncommunist Hanoi-based diplomats report they have heard gunfire in the highland areas of southern Vietnam. According to one account, a Vietnamese official explained that the shooting was aimed at guerrillas of the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races (FULRO), a group of ethnic minorities in the hills.

Some Vietnam refugees have described the movement as weak and lacking unified leadership. Others say it is gradually gaining strength.

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge has hinted it is supporting FULRO, and China has talked of an antigovernment resistance.

There have always been remnants of the anticommunist South Vienamese Army, which sometimes launch food raids from their remote jungle hide-outs. But refugee accounts suggest the groups have gradually developed into a more unified , assertive movement.

Discontent over the intensifying economic hardships and the reluctance of some young Vietnamese to fight the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia are helping the rebels gain converts, refugees say. But this refugee version of the resistance movement comes from a small number of persons, cautions one analyst here.

There is also no evidence that the resistance poses a serious military threat to the Vietnamese government, according to the analyst. The threat, he says, is primarily "political": Vietnam's opponents are using the signs of resistance to suggest growing unpopularity with the government.

Vietnam acknowledges the existence of a resistance group. At a recent trial several defendents were sentenced for organizing opposition in the southern cities of Hue and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The trial coincided with a call for tighter security and alertness.

Refugee testimony also indicates a security crackdown in the south, possibly aimed at heading off the resistance movement.

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