In a harsh critique of the Vietnamese army, the official Hanoi Radio has reported that discipline has disintegrated to “an alarming level.”
The report, blaming senior officers and Vietnam’s crippled economy, described the situation as “odious and very strange for a revolutionary army.” It was broadcast in Vietnam last week, and a transcript became available in Bangkok over the weekend.
“The current situation of poor discipline can be generalized, in terms of its nature and extent, as being serious, prevailing and protracted,” the unusual critique said. “The extent of decline has reached an alarming level.”
Vietnam’s million-man army has often been described as a model of efficiency in a country where the government is mired in bureaucracy and factionalism. But according to the report, the situation has changed.
“The rear service sector cannot secure enough food,” the critique said. “No food reserve is available in localities, and the transportation sector is short of facilities. This is where the problem comes from, from higher echelons.”
Under the slogan of self-sufficiency, the report said, “Everyone must find their own way of achieving the prescribed norms (of supply). Those who are lucky can ask for it and those with money can buy it, while others in difficult circumstances must break the fence and then be disciplined.”
The report cited a regiment that had “cut down trees, destroyed forests and stolen timber from the local people.”
The report made no mention of Cambodia, where hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese troops have done their “patriotic duty” over the past decade in support of a pro-Hanoi regime caught up in a guerrilla resistance war. But veterans of the Cambodian conflict, interviewed by Western reporters in Vietnam, have described difficult conditions there.
In Ho Chi Minh City in early June, Col. Doan Ngoc Canh, commander of a recently returned military police unit, said his men had served for three years in Cambodia and were lonely and homesick. Combat units stationed near the Thai border suffered heavy losses from mines and malaria, he said.
“Frankly, the health care system there was inadequate,” Canh said, in a moment of rare candor for a Vietnamese officer.
In Hanoi last month, Gen. Tran Cong Man, editor of the army newspaper, told The Times of a related area of anxiety.
“We regularly get letters from the families of the Cambodian dead asking about pensions,” he said, and in some cases the families are not notified promptly about their sons’ death.
“It’s the fault of the unit commanders,” Man said.