IN the Indochinese peninsula the road to peace has taken decades already. Two jarring developments this week, as the Christian world was celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, showed once again that the journey is far from over.
One action is the Vietnamese attacks against camps of Kampucheans near the Kampuchean border with Thailand. The camps consist of civilians as well as military opponents of Vietnam's occupational forces. The new attacks come six years after Vietnam imposed its own brand of despotism on the long-suffering Kampuchean people, replacing the brutality of the also-communist Khmer Rouge regime.
The second development is Vietnam's apparent retreat from its offer to permit 8,000 to 10,000 political prisoners to be resettled in the United States.
It is inhumane and unacceptable for the Vietnamese Army, complete with tanks, to attack camps in a drive against Kampuchean civilians as well as noncommunist military forces. Diplomatic pressure and world opinion should be turned full force against Vietnam in an effort to end the Vietnamese invasion and occupation.
The Kampuchean people have lived with uncertainty and atrocity under their last two regimes. They ought to be permitted to decide for themselves what kind of government they want. World support should be provided for the United Nations call for withdrawal of the Vietnamese and free Kampuchean elections under international direction. A beginning would be an immediate end to Vietnamese attacks against the border camps.
At the same time it should be recognized that when an organization intermingles soldiers and civilians, as the Kampucheans have done in the border camps, it risks endangering the civilians.
The pressure of world opinion also should be exerted on Hanoi in response to its hints that it may renege on promises to let political prisoners emigrate to the US. Many were imprisoned because of connections with the United States during the Vietnam war. Vietnam now appears to insist, in part, that the US stop Vietnamese refugees in America from publicly objecting to their homeland's policies. This the US will not do: Freedom of dissent is one of the great advantages a democracy holds over a totalitarian nation such as Vietnam.
Neither the Vietnamese attacks against the Kampuchean camps nor the threat to retain political prisoners need be accepted. Both should end: Diplomatic efforts should be vigorous in both cases. Kampucheans and Vietnamese political prisoners deserve to live in peace, free of the threat of violence. For that matter, so do all others in the Indochinese peninsula.