The ruling CPP celebrated the 28th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge on Sunday morning, with party President Chea Sim warning critics of the commemoration that they are alienating themselves from the Cambodian public.
Chea Sim, who is also the Senate president, told some 400 people gathered at CPP headquarters in Phnom Penh that the Vietnamese-assisted Cambodian forces who captured Phnom Penh in 1979 ensured Cambodia’s survival and liberated the people.
“Jan 7 rescued Cambodia in time, bringing Cambodian people all kinds of freedom,” he told the crowd.
“The everlasting criticism from inconsiderate critics who regard themselves as enemies of Jan 7 only distances them from the people,” he said.
The government is happy with the rate at which the Khmer Rouge tribunal is now progressing toward trying the regime’s leaders, he added.
The Vietnamese army, backed by a contingent of Cambodians who had fled Democratic Kampuchea, began an offensive against the regime Dec 25, 1978, and seized Phnom Penh from Pol Pot on Jan 7, 1979.
Though Cambodia was liberated from the Khmer Rouge, the decade-long Vietnamese presence has led others, particularly those opposing the CPP, to remember Jan 7 as the beginning of a foreign occupation.
Funcinpec President Keo Puth Rasmey said that his party, which fought against the Vietnamese-backed Phnom Penh government in the 1980s, sent a delegation to the CPP’s Sunday celebration.
“Jan 7 represents a positive thing for Cambodia. It was the liberation of Cambodia from the Pol Pot regime,” he said by telephone.
Although some still criticize the commemoration, it is important now for political parties to find common ground and cooperate for the sake of national stability, he said.
“It’s not a perfect date but it’s a positive date,” Keo Puth Rasmey said. “Everybody makes mistakes because we are human, but we have to move forward.”
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that he had mixed feelings about Jan 7. Although it was obviously a good thing that the Khmer Rouge were ousted, the Vietnamese who replaced them were also communists, he said. “We never consider Jan 7 the liberation of our country,” he said.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, president of the Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party, said he views the occasion as the anniversary of Vietnam’s invasion.
“It could have been a liberation if the Vietnamese troops withdrew afterwards. But since the Vietnamese troops remained in Cambodia I do not call it liberation, I call it invasion,” he said.
Prince Thomico added that the CPP should not celebrate the ousting of the Khmer Rouge until the regime’s leaders have been put on trial. “So far there’s nothing to celebrate,” he said.
Pen Sovann, who initially served as prime minister during the Hanoi-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea, said his assessment of Jan 7 was mixed.
Pen Sovann was fired in 1981 and subsequently imprisoned in Vietnam for 10 years. Historians say he was arrested for criticizing the Vietnamese army’s continued presence in Cambodia.
He said by telephone Sunday that it was he who initially asked for Vietnam to help topple the Khmer Rouge.
“January 7th is a liberation of people from the tears and blood of Pol Pot’s regime,” he said. However, he added, “It [went from] liberation to Vietnamese control.”
Some members of the public also had mixed views about celebrating the date.
Pom Ly, 28, of Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, said she used to celebrate the anniversary as a day of liberation, but has changed her mind since being evicted from her land by government officials three months ago.
“I don’t know whether now or then is better,” she said of the Khmer Rouge regime.
But Chey Sophat, a Khmer Rouge survivor now living in Poipet, said that to him, the anniversary represents liberation. He added that his mother died of starvation under the Khmer Rouge.
“I won’t forget my gratitude to those who liberated me,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)