Prime Minister Hun Sen intends to next week revisit the area where he commanded a Khmer Rouge army unit before his defection to Vietnam and eventual return to overthrow Pol Pot’s regime.
Officials are planning a 40th anniversary ceremony of his defection in Memot district, in what is now Tbong Khmum province, next Wednesday, Nem Sowath, director-general of the Defense Ministry’s general department of policy and foreign affairs, said at a news conference on Wednesday.
The ceremony will commemorate Mr. Hun Sen’s break from Pol Pot, which led to the downfall of the brutal regime, General Sowath said.
“The ceremony is of historical value,” Gen. Sowath said. “If there is no Samdech Techo [Mr. Hun Sen], none of today’s achievements would have materialized.”
During the Khmer Rouge era, Mr. Hun Sen was deputy regimental commander in Region 21 of the Eastern Zone. A wave of arbitrary executions within the communists’ ranks and fear of imminent arrest led Mr. Hun Sen to flee to Vietnam on June 20, 1977, along with some of the soldiers under his command, according to the 1990 book “Historical Dictionary of Cambodia.”
At the end of 1977, Mr. Hun Sen helped to organize the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea, a force made up of other defectors which, supported by the Vietnamese army, invaded Cambodia and toppled the Pol Pot government on January 7, 1979.
Gen. Sowath said that Mr. Hun Sen defected with four other officials, two of whom would join Mr. Hun Sen at the ceremony. The other two have already died.
Mr. Hun Sen has never held a public ceremony at the site of his crossing, and the prime minister and his former comrades are set to visit Toanloung commune’s Koh Thma village to recount their journey to Vietnam.
The government marks Pol Pot’s fall every year on January 7 with a national holiday. The celebration occasionally draws scorn from political opponents, who have said it should instead be a day lamented as the start of 10 years of Vietnamese occupation.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann declined to comment on the ceremony, saying the event had nothing to do with the opposition.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Byrne)