``B68,'' one of the most secretive organizations in Vietnam, oversees Vietnam's policy in Cambodia. It is said to have its headquarters on Tran Hung Dao street, the broad, congested avenue in Ho Chi Minh City that connects old Saigon with its twin city of Cho Lon.
``B'' stands for ban, which is Vietnamese for a commission. This one is attached to the Vietnam Communist Party Central Committee's foreign relations commission. What ``68'' stands for is unclear. The numbers are often dates, but this one is an enigma.
B68's operations in Cambodia (Kampuchea) are based on Hanoi's long-term economic and strategic framework for all of Indochina. Its apparent postwar objective is a comprehensive political, military, and economic alliance resembling a combination of the Soviet bloc military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, and its economic counterpart, the Council on Mutual Economic Assistance.
The political aspects of the alliance-to-be are already being handled by B68. Vietnam and Cambodia are bound militarily by a joint friendship treaty that was signed in February 1979 (a similar treaty exists for Laos). And the three nations' planning ministers have been meeting annually to discuss coordination of their five-year development plans.
Security is also a fundamental concern. The Vietnamese have decided that they cannot afford to have a neutral, potentially hostile neighbor on their western flank. Vietnamese statements on Indochina, regularly echoed by their Cambodian and Laotian allies, consistently drive home the message of Indochinese interdependence -- a threat to one country is a threat to all. The message is strikingly similar to the Brezhnev doctrine, advanced by the Soviets to justify their invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The head of B68, fittingly enough, is Le Duc Tho, one of the most powerful but most low-key members of the Communist Party leadership. Tho has been in charge of Vietnam's Cambodia policy since 1978. Before that, during much of Hanoi's war against the United States, he had responsibility for the war in southern Vietnam. Cambodia was an extension of that war for both sides.