The government on Sunday moved to defend the decision to hold a massive celebration this week for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, with the official government spokesman calling a news conference to address recent criticism.
Many in the political opposition have long opposed celebrating the Jan 7, 1979, ouster of the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh as a holiday, instead viewing the day as the beginning of occupation by the Vietnamese rather than the end of Khmer Rouge oppression. In recent days, the opposition and some rights workers have accused the government of compelling people to take part in the celebrations as a way for the ruling CPP to reap political gains.
“The government isn’t forcing anybody to support January 7,” Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told reporters. “We will gather only volunteers.”
“The CPP doesn’t regard January 7 as only belonging to the CPP; we believe January 7 is for all people,” Khieu Kanharith said, adding that all political parties would be invited to participate in celebrations planned for Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium.
The CPP logo would be prominently displayed at the celebration, he continued, but only because the ruling party was the largest contributor to making the event possible.
“We aren’t using a single riel from the state budget; we will spend the CPP’s budget,” Khieu Kanharith said, adding that the party has already spent “several thousand, million riel” to mark the day.
SRP acting Secretary-General Ke Sovannroth said by telephone Sunday that January 7 should not be a public holiday because true peace and development only came to Cambodia following the October 1991 signing of the Paris Peace Agreement.
“This is the CPP’s celebration; this is not a national holiday,” she said, adding that the ruling party was using the celebration merely as a way to make political gains, particularly as an opportunity to indoctrinate thousands of students that the opposition claims are being forced to attend the events.
At his news conference, Khieu Kanharith rejected the claim that students were being forced to take part. Rather, he said, they were willingly joining the celebration as “a show of respect for those several thousands of people who died because of the war.”
He in turn accused the opposition of playing politics by criticizing the celebration, adding that critics of the January 7 holiday are merely those who did nothing to “help or liberate the Khmer people.”