Cambodian People’s Party officials looked back on the history of communism in Cambodia at their Wednesday party congress and declared the April 17, 1975, overthrow of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge regime a “victory.”
The meeting was set to coincide with the birth of the first Cambodian communist party 49 years ago Wednesday. But observers later suggested the tone of the meeting was no coincidence.
One diplomat, a political observer and one veteran CPP member said the meeting was timed to impress visiting lawmakers from the Chinese Communist Party.
Party revisionism certainly is not new—Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot himself went to great lengths to alter the party’s birthday from 1951 to 1963, when he assumed a leadership role.
The CPP was founded in 1978 and celebrates this anniversary every year, but leaders on Wednesday acknowledged June 6, 1951, as the group’s true beginning—when the Khmer People’s Revolutionary Party, closely allied with Vietnamese communists, was founded.
“In the early 1950s, the party led the people’s struggle for national independence from colonialist rule,” CPP President Chea Sim said in a speech.
He went on to explain how the communists “waged the struggle” against the Lon Nol regime from 1970 to 1795, “until the victory on April 17, 1975.”
Then, however, Pol Pot “hijacked all achievements made by the party and the people’s struggle” with policies from 1975-1979 responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians, Chea Sim said.
Unlike the party’s assembly in February, Wednesday’s meeting focused less on policy than on reconciling with old enemies.
In fact, two prominent generals in the Funcinpec party who played a role in factional fighting against the CPP in July 1997 also attended
“We were asked to come here by the Funcinpec party to clean out the darkness from the past,” said Serey Kosal, who now serves as a senator and was accompanied by Nhiek Bun Chhay, another former general-turned-senator.
Chea Sim made no mention of the July 1997 fighting, but he did stress that the CPP is behind efforts to put former Khmer Rouge leaders on trial.
What was unclear, however, is which plan he backs. In his speech he said the CPP supports a draft law that has “been submitted to the National Assembly.”
As this draft law has yet to incorporate changes verbally agreed to by the UN and Prime Minister Hun Sen, Chea Sim’s statement appeared vague on whether he backs a UN trial or not. Hun Sen did not attend Wednesday’s meeting; he returns today from a UN conference in Geneva.
In recent months, those described as the CPP’s “hardliners” have been reluctant to support a UN-backed trial, calling instead for Cambodian “sovereignty.”
China repeatedly has backed this claim, most notably when it last year threatened to veto a UN Security Council resolution to establish a UN Khmer Rouge tribunal like those of suspects in Rwanda and the Balkans.
Although members of the Chinese delegation did not attend Wednesday’s CPP meeting, the analyst said they watched the proceedings “very closely.”