Thai forces called in air strikes today in a fierce battle to repel Vietnamese units that crossed the Thai-Cambodian border in a drive to wipe out the last Cambodian guerrilla base along the embattled frontier, the Thai military reported.
Thai Air Force fighter-bombers flew missions against about 1,000 Vietnamese who crossed the northern Cambodian border yesterday in two places, as Thai ground troops backed by artillery fought to dislodge them, the Army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Narudon Dejpradiyuth, told a press conference.
He said more than 60 Vietnamese soldiers were killed in the fighting. Military supreme commander Gen. Arthit Kamlang-ek said seven Thai soldiers were killed and at least 34 were wounded.
The main Vietnamese incursion, in which about 800 troops were involved, was aimed at surrounding the Cambodian resistance base called Green Hill on an escarpment about two miles across the border from the Thai village of Tatum, the Thai military said.
Thai military and resistance sources said the anti-Vietnamese guerrillas continued to hold the Green Hill base, but details of the fighting were sketchy and reporters were not allowed to visit the scene.
The base is defended by as many as 5,000 Cambodian guerrillas loyal to Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who heads a three-party resistance coalition recognized by the United Nations as Cambodia's legal government.
The Vietnamese, who invaded Cambodia in December 1978 and installed a protege government in Phnom Penh led by Heng Samrin, are fighting to complete their most successful dry-season offensive of the six-year war by wiping out all the resistance bases of the three guerrilla groups along the 450-mile Thai-Cambodian border.
In the process, the Vietnamese apparently hope to seal the border against further guerrilla infiltration and deny the resistance a "liberated zone" by preventing the return of the resistance camps' civilian population of 250,000 from evacuation sites in Thailand, western diplomats said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said the United States strongly condemned the Vietnamese offensives. He said U.S. military equipment and supplies destined for Thailand have "been put at the head of the pipeline to expedite the shipment" and are expected to arrive early in April.
The latest fighting has forced about 90,000 Cambodian refugees to move deeper inside Thailand from evacuation sites at three points along the border, western relief officials said.
Besides the attack on Green Hill, Vietnamese troops yesterday overran the camps of Sanror Changan and Dong Rak, about 40 miles northeast of the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet, Thai military sources said. Both camps had already been evacuated by their civilian inhabitants, but several hundred guerrillas of the anticommunist Khmer People's National Liberation Front were reportedly still occupying Sanror Changan and had to flee the Vietnamese assault.
About 50,000 Cambodian civilians in the area were forced to move farther inside Thailand when their evacuation sites on the Thai side of the border came under Vietnamese shelling Monday and Tuesday, relief officials said. They said about 32,000 Cambodians were evacuated farther inside Thailand's Surin Province from a site nine miles across the border from the Green Hill base. Farther to the east, about 10,000 followers of the Communist Khmer Rouge guerrilla group were moved a few miles after their Sam Peeka evacuation site in Sisaket Province was shelled. The number of casualties was not immediately available.
According to Gen. Narudon, five Thai civilians were killed and about 4,000 people were evacuated from their villages when "hundreds" of Vietnamese shells landed on Thai territory. Thai gunners fired back in what were described as intense artillery duels.
Narudon said more than 30 Vietnamese soldiers were killed on barbed wire surrounding one of three hilltops they seized in Surin Province, and 30 others were killed near two other hills.
He said that in addition to 800 Vietnamese who crossed the border near the Green Hill resistance base, 200 others crossed up to three miles inside Sisaket Province at a point 60 miles to the east.
According to Truong Mealy, a spokesman in Bangkok for Prince Sihanouk, Cambodian guerrillas defending the Green Hill base counterattacked the Vietnamese and ambushed some soldiers who were retreating across the border from Thailand.