Vietnam and Cambodia have agreed to renewed co-operation in the search for Vietnam's war dead when the dry season starts this year. Relations between the two neighbours are often strained, with strong and, in some Cambodian quarters, bitter memories of Vietnam's occupation of the country. The agreement between the two to help find the remains of Vietnamese soldiers missing-in-action (MIAs) could provide some ground for greater understanding, just as the search for American MIAs has provided a bridge between the former enemies of the Vietnam War. It is more than 20 years since Vietnamese troops marched into neighbouring Cambodia. Hanoi was weary of battles and incursions by Khmer Rouge fighters and the slaughter of the local population, which included Vietnamese. In 1979 and in the following 10 years of occupation, thousands more Vietnamese soldiers died. Western estimates put the figure at 10,000, with twice as many wounded. Vietnam's 'People's Army' newspaper Quan Doi Nhan Dan said on Sunday that 2,363 sets of remains had been returned to Vietnam since the joint search and recovery operation began in Cambodia last July. Yesterday, Cambodia's Ambassador to Hanoi, Mr Var Sim Samreth, said the number of those remaining could be about 2,000. He welcomed the agreement for closer co-operation, and said it recognised the role played by Vietnam in ending the regime of Pol Pot. 'We were liberated from the Khmer Rouge,' he said. 'The Vietnamese soldiers have been killed in our country and we must find them to acknowledge their role.' A Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Phan Thuy Thanh, said the level of co-operation between Vietnam and Cambodia, which included contributions from local authorities and local people, was a symbol of improving relations between the two countries. 'The search and repatriation for remains is a noble undertaking which expresses the aspirations and gratitude of the Vietnamese people towards those who sacrificed their lives for national independence and freedom,' she said. Not all Cambodians are as generous in their gratitude to Vietnam. Many consider Hanoi overstayed its welcome with its decade of occupation and still remain suspicious of the communist leaders and their motives. The presence of Vietnamese teams working in regional areas could reasonably be expected to create unease among Khmer villagers, traumatised by years of war and who remain fearful of the collapse of the peace the country has achieved in recent years. But most Cambodians whose families were touched by death during the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, as most were, would know the grief of Vietnamese families whose children never returned from the campaign to oust Pol Pot and the other 'brothers' of the Khmer Rouge regime. It is an understanding of loss and longing which the families of US war dead share and which has helped to build relationships between former enemies as the US army continues a multi-million dollar search for its missing dead. Figures from the US military's Joint Task Force in Hanoi show about 600 sets of remains from the 2,580 US MIAs have been repatriated. Those still to be recovered are mostly in Vietnam, but others are in Laos (402) and Cambodia (58). Vietnamese officials told the state newspaper that the search for MIAs in Cambodia had been hampered by bad weather and lack of maps. It is also unlikely the local teams would have access to sophisticated forensic procedures for identifying remains. Land mines are also a risk in Cambodia.