Vietnam asks West for food

Communist Vietnam alerted Western countries last week that it needs 1.2 million tons of food within two or three months to prevent a ``catastrophe.'' Northern Vietnam faces ``near famine,'' Hanoi officials told Western diplomats. Vietnam's communist allies, especially the Soviet Union, have turned down pleas for help, the diplomats said.

Such help will be difficult for Western countries that, along with China, have led an economic blockade of Vietnam since its 1979 occupation of Cambodia. Earlier this month, the United States State Department called Vietnam's appeal for food ``outrageous.''

The Communist Party Politburo blames bad weather for the crisis, but also acknowledges past economic policies. This month, it granted farmers more freedom from state duties, allowing them to find a ``fair'' price for their harvests.

The crisis could bring political fallout for Hanoi's new communist leaders. ``To admit they have failed to feed their own people is a disaster,'' said a West European diplomat based in Hanoi. A US diplomat said the food crisis could weaken Vietnam's position in disputes over Cambodia and with China.

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