BANGKOK, Thailand -- Vietnam plans to withdraw about 50,000 of its troops from Cambodia in June, nearly half of the 120,000-member force supporting the Hanoi-installed Phnom Penh regime, a Vietnamese official said today.
'We are going to withdraw part of our troops from Cambodia - approximately 50,000 men,' a spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok told United Press International.
The spokesman said the pullout is to take place in June with a specific date to be announced later after it has been 'fixed and agreed on by the ministries of defense of Cambodia and Vietnam.'
Vietnam invaded Cambodia on Dec. 25, 1978, with nearly 200,000 troops, capturing the capital of Phnom Penh within 15 days and ending the Marxist Khmer Rouge's reign of terror, torture and death.
Saddled with a Western trade embargo, a bankrupt economy and now a famine, Vietnam has vowed to withdraw all of its troops from Cambodia by the end of 1990 and leave the defense of the country to the pro-Hanoi government it has placed in Phnom Penh.
The announcement of the amount of this year's troop withdrawal follows meetings in Moscow between Thai Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and other Soviet officials in which the Soviet Union said it would talk to its Vietnamese ally about speeding up a solution to the Cambodian problem.
Vietnam's annual troop withdrawals since 1982 have usually been judged as mere troop rotations, but the U.S. military has said Vietnam's 1987 withdrawal of 20,000 troops was genuine and reduced their presence in Cambodia to about 120,000 troops.
The announced withdrawal follows a visit to Moscow by Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach.
Both Vietnam and the United States seek to prevent the Khmer Rouge from returning to power and want a political solution in Cambodia.
'While we certainly welcome withdrawal, we would alsolike to see a political settlement,' a Western official said in Bangkok today.
'One of the dangers of withdrawal are chaos and civil war in Cambodia, if you believe, as we do, that the People's Republic of Kampuchea (the Phnom Penh government), is probably not capable of maintaining order,' the senior official said.
'Withdrawing Vietnamese troops is not a solution to the Cambodian problem,' said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Vith Rainanonda, reacting to the announced Vietnamese withdrawal.
'There will be a power vacuum after Vietnam withdraws if the political problem is not settled, a coalition government is not agreed on and the Cambodian people still have no chance to determine their own future,' Vith said.
The Khmer Rouge maintain an army along the Thai-Cambodian border of about 35,000 troops who are armed by China and are the most powerful faction in the United Nations-recognized three-party resistance coalition led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot and formerly allied with the Vietnamese communists, overthrew the U.S.-backed Lon Nol regime in Phnom Penh just days before North Vietnam conquered the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City.
Before being driven from Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge killed more than a million Cambodians, according to Western estimates.