Nearly 20,000 students and civil servants gathered in central Phnom Penh on Wednesday to honor the 63rd anniversary of Cambodia’s independence from France, as politicians and onlookers urged national unity.
King Norodom Sihamoni was greeted by throngs of flag-waving supporters as he made his way to Independence Monument at 8 a.m. At the monument, the king welcomed officials and lit its ceremonial victory fire before heading back to the palace two hours later.
Prime Minister Hun Sen mingled with the crowd, even pausing to chat for several minutes with a group of opposition lawmakers.
Tensions with the CNRP remain high, with several of the party’s leaders, lawmakers and members exiled, jailed or sidelined amid court cases widely seen as politically motivated.
But opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said the 64-year-old prime minister had avoided politics, instead urging the group to look after their health as they aged.
Mr. Hun Sen “talked to us about health problems, saying that since all of us are old, we must pay attention to our health and take care,” Mr. Chhay Eang said.
The prime minister also marked the event on his Facebook page by praising the late King Norodom Sihanouk—once Hun Sen’s political rival—without whom “Cambodia would not be independent.”
Mr. Chhay Eang said the anniversary of the country’s independence on November 9, 1953, was an important moment for gratitude, and appealed for increased dialogue to heal political and social divisions.
“I believe that if Khmers talk together, Khmers will have peace,” he said.
Others in the crowd echoed the sentiment.
“I want to see both parties get along and not fight each other because we are all Cambodians,” said 15-year-old Chea Phallis, a student at Akphivat High School in Phnom Penh.
“In other countries, if politicians fight each other, the country is not at peace,” she said.