WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday strongly condemned Vietnam's military incursions into Thailand and said the United States is willing to increase arms aid to the Bangkok government if needed to meet the threat.
"These unprovoked and hostile acts against Thailand are deplorable," spokesman Alan Romberg said, reading a prepared statement. "We call on Vietnam to cease these attacks and to refrain from further violations of the accepted norms of decent international behavior."
Romberg said that Thailand, a longtime U.S. ally, has not asked for any new arms aid this year but that U.S. officials "stand ready to respond to future requests."
Communist Vietnam, which invaded Cambodia in December, 1978, and later set up a puppet government in Phnom Penh, launched a major offensive last month against Cambodian rebel groups with bases near the Thai border. On Monday and Tuesday, Vietnamese forces reportedly crossed into Thailand at several points in pursuit of the Cambodian guerrillas, shooting down a Thai air force plane and clashing with Thai army units.
Romberg said the State Department is "in very close touch" with the Thai government on the issue.
Assistant Secretary of State Paul D. Wolfowitz also met with Chinese Ambassador Zhang Wenjin on Wednesday to discuss the conflict, officials said. China has joined the United States in opposing Vietnam's intervention in Cambodia and reportedly has provided major aid to the Cambodian guerrillas.
(The Thai army reinforced its units along the Thai-Cambodian border Wednesday and warned Vietnamese forces by loudspeaker to pull back from Thai territory, news agencies reported. A Vietnamese officer using a cane unexpectedly walked out of Ampil, a guerrilla base captured this week by the Vietnamese, and conferred with Thai soldiers on a bridge spanning an anti-tank ditch at the border. The half-hour discussion Wednesday apparently concerned the exact location of the border, and the Thai army radio said later that a Vietnamese commander will return this morning with a message for the Thais.)
A senior State Department official said the skirmishes do not appear likely to escalate into open warfare between Thailand and Vietnam. But he added that the United States wants to reaffirm its support for both the Thais and the Cambodian resistance.
"These are not as bad as the Vietnamese incursions in 1980," he said, speaking of a similar offensive against the rebels that year. "The Thais seem pretty confident about their ability to contain it."
He said U.S. analysts believe the Cambodian rebels have suffered a setback but not a final defeat.
"The resistance itself is much bigger and more effective, these events along the border notwithstanding," the official said. "The non-Communist groups are up to about 20,000 men under arms, from not even existing in 1980. Unfortunately, the (Cambodian Communist) Khmer Rouge have grown still larger than that."
The Khmer Rouge and two non-Communist rebel groups have formed a tenuous military and political alliance to oppose the present Phnom Penh regime and its Vietnamese supporters.
"The name of the game is to try to persuade Vietnam that a political solution is in their interest--that the alternative is a continuing, escalating war in Cambodia," the official said. "The Vietnamese thought they would only need six months to take Cambodia. They have been proven wrong."