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Defense Minister: MiG-Backed Forces Ready For Viet Pullout

August 4, 1989

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Cambodia’s Vietnamese-supported army, now with advanced Soviet MIG-21 jet fighters, is ready to take on guerrillas after Vietnam’s pullout in September, the Cambodian defense minister said.

On the diplomatic front, a U.N. fact-finding mission dispatched by an international conference in Paris prepared to visit Cambodia next week before touring the embattled Thai-Cambodian border, a Thai official said Friday.

Defense Minister Tie Banh said new military hardware helped make the military a regular force with infantry, navy and air force components, according to a report by the official SPK news agency that was seen in Bangkok on Friday.

″Besides the unit of MIG-21, forces of armored cars, tanks and artillery have also shaped and become ever more effective in fighting,″ SPK quoted him as saying, without giving any numbers.

Soviet-backed Vietnam installed the Phnom Penh government after invading Cambodia in late 1978 and ousting the brutal Khmer Rouge rulers. The Khmer Rouge, with up to 40,000 fighters the largest of the three guerrilla forces, poses the greatest threat to the government.

The first squadron of MIG-21s piloted by Cambodians landed in Phnom Penh in June, SPK earlier reported.

On July 27, Thai Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Naruedol Dejpradiyuth quoted a report that the jets were dispatched from Vietnam’s Bien Hoa airbase to boost the Cambodian army in anticipation of the pullout.

Before the jets arrived, the Soviet Union sent tanks, artillery guns, and ″a vast amount of war materiel″ to Cambodia’s Kompong Som port on June 12, according to the army radio of the Khmer Rouge.

Western analysts have judged the Cambodian army unimpressive on the battlefield. The United States says Cambodia’s army has about 40,000 troops and is relatively inexperienced, poorly led and prone to defections to the guerrilla side.

The United Nations team led by Norwegian Lt. Gen. Martin O. Vadset is to arrive in Bangkok Sunday and leave for Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh Monday, said Kobsak Chutikul of the Foreign Ministry’s Political Department.

The Paris conference, which opened July 30, is sending the team to gather information for formation of an international body to monitor Vietnam’s withdrawal.

Kobsak said the 20 members of the U.N team are from Norway, India, Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia, France and Australia.

He said the team will visit Cambodia for a week before spending Aug. 14-19 studying the situation along the Thai-Cambodia border and holding talks with Thai Foreign Ministry and military officials.

Fighting near the border has flared anew in recent weeks. About 280,000 Cambodian refugees live in U.N.-assisted border camps controlled by the resistance guerrillas.

The fact-finding mission is to report back to the international conference before the end of the month.

Update hourly