Marking the 30th anniversary of the call to arms against the Khmer Rouge on Tuesday, National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin told a crowd of thousands in Phnom Penh to remember the moment Cambodia set down the path to salvation.
“It is historic that we were resurrected from the Pol Pot regime until today, and we cannot forget this,” Heng Samrin said in an address at Hun Sen Park, where he was joined by the other members of the CPP triumvirate: Prime Minister Hun Sen and Senate President Chea Sim.
“Never have we forgotten the deaths of the soldiers who fell protecting the country and especially the Cambodian soldiers recently stationed on the western border protecting our national sovereignty,” he said, referring to the monthslong standoff with Thailand at the Preah Vihear temple.
At a secret two-day congress of 200 people beginning in Kratie province’s Snuol district on Dec 2, 1978, Heng Samrin was named chairman of the National United Front for the Salvation of Kampuchea, a Vietnamese-sponsored group with the stated aim of toppling Pol Pot and Democratic Kampuchea.
Following the Vietnamese military intervention that began three weeks later, Heng Samrin would go on to be Cambodia’s head of state from 1979 to 1991.
“The front did not just save our lives but reformed the country,” Heng Samrin continued. “During the Pol Pot regime, Cambodia became a killing field; people were killed in ditches.”
Those outside the ruling party have often sought to commemorate the demise of the Khmer Rouge without appearing to support either the unpopular Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia that followed or the CPP, which also consolidated its power at the same time.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam said Tuesday marked a historic event known throughout the region and showed the country’s continuing solidarity with Vietnam.
“Tuesday’s 30th anniversary shows how strong the relations are between neighboring countries to develop each country,” he said.
SRP Deputy Secretary-General Mu Sochua said by telephone that opposition to the Khmer Rouge does not belong to the CPP alone.
“Opposing the Pol Pot regime or the killing fields is not only for the CPP,” she said. “All Cambodians can join in developing the country.”
Constitutional Council member Son Soubert, son of former Prime Minister Son Sann, said Tuesday that he felt Dec 2 had provided Vietnam with a pretext to establish its dominion over Cambodia.
“I am so sad when they celebrate Dec 2 or when they support the Vietnamese soldiers who came to Cambodia,” he said. “Vietnam did not liberate Cambodia. It invaded Cambodia.”
In 1982, Son Sann’s Khmer People’s National Liberation Front formed a coalition government in exile, which included the Khmer Rouge, to fight against the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia.
However, Son Soubert said this was only to maintain access to Cambodia’s seat at the UN, which the Khmer Rouge held.
International opposition to the Khmer Rouge was growing in 1978 just as the regime was starting to open up to the outside, he said.
“There were other means of intervening,” Son Soubert said.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison) .