THE Vietnamese, like their Cambodian neighbours, have known many years of war and conflict. After gaining independence from French colonialists in the 1950s under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam almost immediately plunged into a war between the north of the country and the Saigon regime established by the United States in the South. The war lasted until 1975 and left Vietnam with a badly damaged environment and an infrastructure in tatters. Since the fall of Saigon and the reunification of Vietnam, about 500,000 Vietnamese have left the country and become refugees. Many of them came to Hong Kong as 'asylum seekers', better known as 'boat people'. Following the defeat of the US and their withdrawal from Vietnam, the country was effectively cut off from the West and the rest of Asia. Recently, however, the US lifted the embargo on Vietnam. Vietnam is now pursuing an 'open market' policy and Hong Kong companies are among the biggest investors. Under the Government's new policies, individuals have more freedom and responsibility for their own economic welfare. New land laws mean that every farm household now has land to use for a minimum of 20 years. Unfortunately, the poorest families are finding it most difficult to take advantage of the reforms - they have less capital and less experience in dealing with money. In Vietnam, as in most developing countries, government services do not reach much further than the central cities. The poorest people in Vietnam live in the remote, hilly parts of the country, and many of them belong to ethnic minority groups. Oxfam Hong Kong has recently opened an office in Hanoi in order to help the people of Vietnam more effectively. Its programmes are working to help the poor benefit from the new economic reforms by helping them to produce more food and goods which they can sell at market. Oxfam Hong Kong is also helping villagers to improve their living conditions with clean water and better health care and to combat environmental damage with tree-planting schemes. Oxfam Hong Kong is an international development and relief agency which works with the poor to help them overcome poverty, distress and suffering. For more information, call 861-1411. Knowing Vietnam Population: 65,680,000 Area: 329,560 square kilo metres Capital: Hanoi Religion: Mainly Bud dhist Language: Vietnamese Consider these facts: about 46 per cent of the population has access to safe water; minority ethnic groups make up 10 per cent of the population.