A Briton won Vietnam's first major marathon yesterday after American Bill Rodgers buckled under the heat in Ho Chi Minh City. Some American war veterans ran on behalf of their former comrades-in-arms.

Tim Sautar, 36, a British lawyer living in Hong Kong, was timed in 2 hours 43 minutes 26 seconds, for his first marathon victory. Luu Van Hung of Vietnam finished second in 2:44:52.

The weekend of races was organized by the communist government as part of its search for international support and tourism revenue to help its sagging economy.

Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lined the course to cheer some 350 runners from 26 nations, including 70 Americans, competing in the first Ho Chi Minh City International Marathon. Several thousand runners also competed in events Saturday.

The marathon course took the runners past scenes seared into wartime memories -- the old City Hall, the former bar district and the former U.S. Embassy, where Vietnamese clung to American helicopters in a last-ditch attempt to flee as the war came to a close in 1975.

The war cost the lives of an estimated 2 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans. The two nations have no diplomatic ties and a trade embargo led by the United States has remained in force since the war ended.

Rodgers led most of the race, but near the 22-mile mark, he wilted in the 90-degree heat and suffered from severe dehydration.

"The ambulances were waiting to pick me up," Rodgers, 44, said after his slowest-ever marathon. "It was the first time I've ever walked across the finish line."

Rodgers said he would stick to cooler, or shorter races, but still intends to compete in this year's Boston Marathon, which he has won four times.

Rodgers was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and did alternative service in a hospital.

Three American veterans in wheelchairs were told at the starting line they could not join the marathon. Vietnamese officials blamed technical matters and said they were concerned about road conditions.

James Barker, a therapist at the San Jose and San Mateo California Veterans Center, was the first American veteran to finish.

"I've run through death and life and through death again and I'm here again as a grateful survivor," he said. "I'm happy to complete this on behalf of a generation of Vietnam veterans . . . and for many of those who could never be here to experience and triumph in struggle, and conquer this kind of event."

Vietnamese finished 1-2 in the women's division -- Dang Thi Teo at 3:26:22 and Phi Thi Tham at 3:28:43. Californian Lesley Brown, now living in Hong Kong, was third.