"The Vietnamese are my best friends because they saved me from Pol Pot and my worst enemy because I don't know if they'll ever leave." This is how an educated Cambodian recently expressed his prople's dilemma in dealing with the pale-skinned soldiers in baggy fatigues and pith helmets who are stationed in every corner of Cambodia.
Sixteen months after the invasion that drove Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge from Phnom Pehn Vietnam shows no sign of reducing its forces in Cambodia, estimated by Western intelligence analysts to number 200,000.
Meanwhile, a corps of advisers from Hanoi is at work in the country's new civil administration to assure that domestic and foreign policy follow the Vietnamese model wherever possible. Through their efforts. Vietnam is realizing its long standing ambition for an Indochina federation dominated by Hanoi.
Ministries in Hanoi often assign a vice minister to oversee policy at the counterpart office in Phnom Penh. In the provinces, Vietnamese technicians and political officers are attached to local revolutionary committees.
In government, the supposedly sovereign Cambodians often find themselves overruled. One Westerner recently received permission from Cambodian provincial authorities to visit a certain district. But the local Vietnamese adviser later vetoed the trip on security grounds.
During this correspondent's first day in Phnom Penh, a Vietnamese Army officer confiscated film shot of his soldiers. He ignored protests that Cambodian officials had placed no restrictions on photography.
Although well-disciplined, many Vietnamese comport themselves in line of a longstanding Vietnamese belief that the Cambodians are a childlike people unable to work hard and who have made a mess of their country for centuries. Today, things are only a bit worse than usual, the Vietnamese thinking goes.
The Vietnamese make no secret of their military presence in Cambodia, maintaining their troops are here at the invitation of the Cambodian government and will return home when the threat from the Khmer Rouge and China is over.
The Vietnamese guard most of the country's bridges. In base camps off major highways they grow vegetables and tinker with field guns. They stand sentry duty at Phnom Penh's independence monument.
They live in the little apartments behind shops, tents, spare buildings in temple compounds, and whitewashed villas. They have closed off entire blocks of Phnom Penh, apparently for use as quarters for their troops.
Officials in Phnom Penh maintain Cambodians will show undying gratitude to Vietnam for being the only country to help them cast off the Khmer Rouge yoke. "Refugees went west to Thailand. Refugees went east to Vietnam," said one Cambodian official, speaking of the Khmer Rouge years. "But who saved us from genocide? Just Vietnam."
Among ordinary Cambodians, however, sentiments seem not as simple as that. Although there was almost universal jubilation after the demise of Khmer Rouge rule, people question Vietnam's motives for flooding their country with soldiers.
A few refugees have suggested Vietnam intended to kill off the Cambodian people through starvation and then settle the land with its own people. Although no evidence exists to support this theory, it demonstrates the extremes of people's distrust.
Others suggest Vietnam wants to strip Cambodia of what little wealth it has. A young trader from Kompong Cham Province, for example, claimed to have seen troops sending cars, tractors and engines back to Vietnam when they first captured the province last year.
Many Cambodians believe the Vietnamese have made off with art from the temple complex at Angkor and the former royal palace in the capital. Thirty Vietnamese are currently stationed at the palace.
Cambodians are without time to worry about these issues. Meanwhile, they are still exposed to the petty irritations of life with a foreign army in their midst: sentries rudely turn people away from government offices, rural outposts are supplied with rice while surrounding villages get nothing.
The Cambodians' resentment is clear. People tell visiting foreigners this directly when guides provided by the Foreign Ministry are elsewhere and often give their feelings away unconsciously.
For instance, Cambodians habitually use the pejorative term Youan in referring to the Vietnamese. When dealing with the soldiers themselves, one is better advised to say "Vietnamese."
For the present, most Cambodians appear to have accepted the Vietnamese as a necessary evil -- a group to tolerate, if not to love. If the troops went home, it is felt, the Khmer Rouge would make quick work of the teen-agers Phnom Phen has armed and put in the uniform of a new Cambodian National Army.
Although many Cambodians still dream of the third alternative -- an anticommunist, anit-Vietnamese government, perhaps led by former head of state Prince Norodom Sihanouk -- few seem prepared to embark on the new round of war such a solution would require.
Still, as memories of Pol Pot's horrors recede, the Vietnamese could find it increasingly difficult to maintain their welcome. Many analysts believe they are taking a calculated risk in helping to arm and train Cambodians who could later turn against them. By some reports there have been minor clashes already.
In Phnom Penh early on the morning of April 22, automatic weapons fire erupted around the railway station, lasting over an hour. Foreign aid workers awakened by the din saw tracer bullets going toward and away from the station area.
Government sources later said some Cambodian soldiers had gotten drunk and began discharging their weapons. But by other accounts, a Vietnamese security patrol had told the soldiers to break up the party and was fired on. One Vietnamese and three Cambodian civilians were reported wounded.