BAVIT, Cambodia -- Thousands of Vietnamese soldiers pulled out of Cambodia Saturday in a carefully staged withdrawal to show progress in the lengthy war against anti-Hanoi guerrillas.
Vietnam claimed 10,000 of its troops were being brought home in the third consecutive year of troop withdrawals from Cambodia. The troops were sent to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), 155 miles southeast of Phnom Penh.
A miles-long convoy of ancient Chinese, Soviet and American-made military trucks carried the departing troops past the vast ricefields of southeastern Cambodia to the border town of Bavit, where they crossed into Vietnam.
Overcast skies and occasional drizzle failed to dampen the spirits of the youthful Vietnamese soldiers who clearly were happy to be going home after duty in neighboring Cambodia.
Sources in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh said three Vietnamese regiments totaling about 10,000 troops were being withdrawan from the guerrilla-infested provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap and Pursat in far western Cambodia.
The sources said the bulk of the troops being withdrawn left Cambodia Saturday following a colorful goodbye ceremony in Phnom Penh, but the actual pullout would continue for several days.
The withdrawal of 10,000 of Hanoi's fighting men would, according to Western analysts, leave 160,000 to 170,000 Vietnamese troops in Cambodia.
Vietnam invaded Cambodia on Christmas Day, 1978, and in less than two weeks ousted the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge communist government from Phnom Penh.
About 1.5 million to 2 million Cambodians died under the Khmer Rouge regime that came to power in 1975 by defeating the American-backed Long Boret government as part of the quick succession of communist victories in Indochina.
The defeated Khmer Rouge, armed and financed by mainland China, make up the majority of the 50,000 guerrillas battling Vietnamese and Cambodian government forces in western and northern Cambodia.
Vietnam claimed also to have withdrawn 10,000 troops from Cambodia in 1983. Vietnam has pledged to make annual troop pullouts from Cambodia until all its forces have been withdrawn. It has linked the withdrawals to improved security in Cambodia.
However, Western military analysts believe the Cambodian resistance movement, under the titular leadership of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, is gaining strength. Most analysts also believe many of the Vietnamese troops previously withdrawn have quietly been replaced.