In a significant reversal for the ruling CPP government, the Council of Ministers announced yesterday that October 23, the anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, has been reinstated as a national holiday, eight years after it was dropped as a day of celebration.
The decision reverses a 2004 government directive that dropped the date from the official calendar of national holidays in order to promote January 7 as National Liberation Day, which marks the toppling of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 by forces led by senior leaders of the CPP and backed by the Vietnamese army.
“The government has decided to put October 23, the day of the Paris Peace Agreement, as a holiday for civil servants, employers and workers nationwide from 2013 and on,” the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit said in a statement.
The statement did not give a reason for the government reinstating the holiday, however, the move comes amid a national outpouring following the death of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who was instrumental, along with Prime Minister Hun Sen, in ensuring the success of the Paris agreement.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that he was unaware of the decision to reintroduce the holiday and could not comment.
In 1991, the U.N.-backed international agreement ended the country’s protracted civil war and paved the way for Cambodia to move from a communist state to a democracy and allowed the U.N. Transitional Authority to oversee free and fair national elections in 1993.
But the agreement has been long criticized by the CPP for failing to disarm the Khmer Rouge, which continued to fight government forces until late 1998. The ruling CPP also lost the 1993 election, leading to an uneasy coalition government between the royalist Funcinpec, led by then First-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and then Second-Prime Minister Hun Sen. The coalition finally descended into factional fighting in 1997, which saw forces loyal to Mr. Hun Sen defeat Prince Ranariddh’s forces in tank battles in Phnom Penh.
Outside the Royal Palace yesterday, three people who had gathered to mourn the late King Father said the holiday should not have been removed in the first place.
“This holiday should have been [on the calendar] every year,” said Long Visal, 34. “I don’t know why the government changed it. It is very special for all the Cambodian people because the King Father was important in bringing peace to the people with that agreement.”