Vietnam Shakes Up Cabinet Amid Economic Distress

United Press International

Vietnam on Sunday announced the dismissal of eight ministers in a major Cabinet shake-up apparently triggered by the country's economic difficulties.

Official Radio Hanoi said that Deputy Premier To Huu, 66, was replaced by veteran Politburo member Vo Chi Cong, 73. Huu, Vietnam's poet laureate, who had been widely viewed as a candidate to be the next premier, was apparently sacked for not effectively implementing economic reforms.

Communications and Transportation Minister Dong Si Nguyen--a deputy premier and alternate Politburo member--was succeeded by Bui Van Luu. Nguyen helped speed the fall of South Vietnam by directing the movement of supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War.

Propaganda Expert

Culture Minister Nguyen Van Hieu, first secretary general of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam during the war and a veteran propaganda expert, was also dismissed. No replacement was announced.

Finance Minister Chu Van Thuc was succeeded by Food Minister Vu Tuan, who backs liberal economic incentives for farmers.

Also replaced were the ministers of internal trade, external trade and coal and mining. The director general of the state bank, a ministerial-level position, was also changed.

"They have sacked virtually all the key economic ministers; that can't mean they are happy with the way the economy is going," said one analyst who closely watches Vietnam's political situation.

More than a decade after the end of the Vietnam War, the country remains one of the poorest in the world with a per capita income of $130. It also is heavily in debt to the Soviet Union.

Rising Inflation

Economic reforms implemented last year were supposed to liberalize Vietnam's tightly controlled economy, reduce the bureaucracy and spur production. But instead, inflation has soared. Party statements blame the problems not on the reforms but on their implementation.

Earlier this month, a major meeting of the Communist Party admitted "shortcomings and errors in leadership, supervision and execution of tasks." The party leaders tied the errors in execution to problems "relating to prices, wages and money."

The Cabinet shake-up may also reflect an internal power struggle as Vietnam approaches its 6th Communist Party Congress and the possible retirement of the country's top three leaders, who have been in power since 1956, diplomats traveling from Hanoi said.

Premier Pham Van Dong is 80, and Communist Party Secretary General Le Duan and State Council Chairman Truong Chinh are both 79. All three are ailing, and Vietnamese officials have hinted that some or all of them may retire by the end of the year.

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