High-ranking State Department officials predicted yesterday that famine and disease would ravage Cambodia again later this year and called for intensified international aid efforts.
Expanding on the Cambodian issue in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Asian and Pacific affairs, the officials also charged that the Soviet Union bears major responsibility for a "wordlwide refugee crisis" that is straining Western aid programs. They cited large flows of refugees from Soviet-supported Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Ethiopia.
The Soviet Embassy said it did not wish to "engage in polemics" and would have no official comment on the charge.
The U.S. officials, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke and Coordinator for Refugee Affiars Victor Palmieri, said they had no evidence that any U.S. food aid was being diverted to Vietnamese forces in Cambodia, but that they could not guarantee this.
They said there was "no doubt" that Vietnamese troops battling Cambodian insurgents near the border with Thailand were confiscating at least some of the food being brought by refugees from border distribution points into the Cambodian interior.
Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia in January 1979, toppled the Khmer Rouge government of Pol Pot and installed a new communist government under Heng Samrin. The State Department estimates that Hanoi now has many as 200,000 soldiers in Cambodia, 50,000 to 70,000 of whom are said to be battling the remnants of the Khmer Rouge near the Thai border.
Holbrooke and Palmieri told the subcommittee that the United States would press international relief organizations for greater verification that the food aid is being distributed properly to needy Cambodians.
The issue is to be raised at a meeting of donor countries in New York Wednesday to consider new aid pledges and discuss accountability and the general effectiveness of the program.
U.N. and Red Cross relief officials have expressed pessimism about getting their target of $262 million to continue the aid program for Cambodia for the rest of the year.
The Soviet Union is the only other major source of aid, and Moscow is considered unlikely to make up the difference if Western contributions fall short of expectations.
Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), who chaired the hearing, told the officials, "We don't want to be conned. We don't want [U.S. food aid] going to feed the Vietnamese Army."
Palmieri said that a combination of foreign aid and Cambodia's small harvest of the last wet season had "temporarily alleviated" the country's severe food and health problems.
"But now that the principal harvest has been consumed, famine and disease will certainly reemerge before the next major harvest in December," he said in a written record. He said international aid was essential to ensure the Cambodian people's survival and stem the tide of refugees.