While several thousand government officials gathered at CPP headquarters in Phnom Penh Friday to observe the 26th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, a large group of armed intervention police broke up a handful of protesters in front of the National Assembly.
Party President Chea Sim headed the CPP celebrations in the absence of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who flew to Jakarta after last month’s tsunami disaster.
After paying tribute to the millions of Cambodians who died under the Khmer Rouge regime, Chea Sim went on to thank those who, with the help of Vietnamese forces, rose to liberate the country in the “January 7th Victory.”
He also noted that international funding was now the only obstacle in the way of a Khmer Rouge tribunal, without which, “we cannot close this darkest chapter totally.”
Reactions among participants at the celebration were mixed.
“Today is the day that we revisit the bitter history we suffered under the Pol Pot regime,” said Bin Phira, 45. “We cannot forget this day because it was a day of survival.”
But college student Sao Rosa, 22, would rather not dwell on the past. “I don’t feel enthusiastic about the holiday,” he said. “We should keep this bitter history in mind, but focus on moving ahead.”
Meanwhile, across town in front of the National Assembly, about a dozen young members of the ultra-nationalist Khmer Front Party unfurled banners to march in protest of the holiday, which they said was merely a celebration of the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.
“January is Vietnamese invasion day,” chanted protester Im Sinath. “There is no freedom under the communist government.”
The protesters had only traveled a few meters when about 100 police officers armed with electric batons and rifles descended upon the peaceful group, beating some but injuring no one.
“Did any of your family members die during the Pol Pot regime?” a Daun Penh district officer shouted at one of the fleeing protesters.
Police arrested seven people for demonstrating without the municipality’s permission. They were released later Friday after signing statements promising that they would no longer protest illegally.