A major breakthrough in Cambodian relief has emerged with Vietnam's agreement to allow Western food and seed aid to be moved overland into hunger-ravaged Cambodia from the southern Vietnamese port of Vung Tau.
The breakthrough, which occurred this week, could be particularly significant for Cambodia's race to plant a vital crop before the monsoons hit next month.
Until now, the only deep-water port facility open to Western relief agencies has been the southern Cambodian port at Kompong Som.
Vietnam, meanwhile, has rejected an invitation to participate in a United Nations conference on humanitarian assistance to the people of Cambodia, to be held in Geneva May 26.
In addition to opening Vung Tau at the mouth of the Mekong River, an up-river port was made available to Western barges at Kompong Cham.
A team of Russians, which arrived in April, has now cleared out a jam-up of Soviet relief ships at Kompong Som. This has allowed the long-delayed docking of Western ships and sped up unloading capabilities of the Cambodians themselves , says a spokesman of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Until recently, the relief effort in Cambodia had looked grim. The collapse of docks at Phnom Penh and ship crowding at the deepwater port slowed the movement of seed and food dramatically, dampening relief workers' hopes that Cambodia could be well on its way to food self-sufficiency by 1981.
However, the opening of the Vietnamese port operation, if the port is used effectively, could have enormous potential for moving seed and food into Cambodia's very populous southeastern region. At Vung Tau's capacity of 7,500 tons of food, it could supply 25 percent of the monthly food aid goal of UNICEF. This would ease the pressure on scarce trucking and supply resources centered in Kompong Som and Phnom Penh.
Already 500 tons of seed rice has been moved into Vung Tau by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which negotiated the agreement with the Vietnamese. Another 8,000 tons is planned.
As yet, however, the breakthrough is only partial. While the seed rice is moving into the Vietnamese port, the costs of local labor for unloading and transporting food aid are still too high for the FAO to go ahead with those shipments. Negotiations are under way to deal with the problem.