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VIETNAM SAYS IT WILL KEEP REDUCING SIZE OF ITS MILITARY

Vietnam says it will continue to reduce the size of its military, which once had one of the largest standing armies in the world, despite recent tension with China over territorial disputes.

Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam told Reuters the Hanoi government would push forward with the big demobilization it started in the 1980s."We have been and will be reducing the size of the army. It is our desire to preserve and consolidate peace and stability in the region," he said Monday.

"We will only keep a force that is sufficient to ensure the security of the country."

Cam declined to give the size of the military or of planned reductions. Some diplomats estimate Vietnam has cut its armed forces from 1 million soldiers in the 1980s to some 600,000 now.

Cam said Vietnam had tried to improve relations with China since they normalized ties last November. The two countries had been on icy terms following a 1979 border war launched by China.

But he accused China of recently fueling tension and worrying countries in the region by making claims against Vietnam in the South China Sea.

"It is regrettable that China has taken some action every two months to impede the smooth normalization of relations," he said.

In the latest incident, Hanoi accused China of drilling for oil in Vietnamese waters in the Tonkin Gulf. Cam reiterated Hanoi's demand for China to remove an oil rig from the area.

He said deputy foreign ministers from China and Vietnam were expected to stick to an earlier plan to hold talks before Sept. 20 and an experts' meeting in October on territorial disputes.

"It is regrettable that before these negotiations take place China has taken the action to drill for oil in the Gulf of Tonkin," he said.

"We are determined to normalize relations with China, but at the same time, we are determined to protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.

Cam said Vietnam wanted to normalize relations immediately with the United States and urged Washington to lift the trade embargo it imposed on Hanoi in 1964.

Though relations had improved since Washington began to ease sanctions last year, he said the pace was too slow.

Cam said Vietnam would continue to help the United States answer questions about U.S. servicemen missing from the war. But he urged Washington to stop insisting that cooperation and peace in Cambodia be preconditions for normalizing relations.

"We do this (cooperation) even though we have tens of thousands of our own missing. We think this problem can be put to an end," he said.