Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday blasted critics of the January 7 holiday, saying that those who choose not to respect today’s celebration were “animals.”
On Jan 7, 1979, Cambodian and Vietnamese troops entered Phnom Penh, effectively ending the nearly four-year reign of the Khmer Rouge, but also beginning a decade of Vietnamese occupation.
CPP leaders—who were initially installed in power at that time—have long touted Jan 7 as a day of national rebirth, but for many in the opposition the day represents the exchanging of one oppressive regime for another.
Speaking at a bridge inauguration ceremony in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen made it clear what he thought of the critics.
“This is the truth of history. The extremists and the unethical groups, they must recognize the truth [of Jan 7],” Hun Sen said. “If you don’t dare to accept the truth you are not human beings, you are animals.”
“Don’t take Jan 7 as your enemy,” he continued, “Jan 7 doesn’t hold anyone as its enemy. They condemned the Khmer Rouge, but they also condemn the one who toppled the Khmer Rouge.”
The prime minister also took the opportunity to talk up his party’s role in the development of Cambodia since the fall of Democratic Kampuchea 30 years ago today, while calling the political opposition latecomers to the process.
“The opposition parties started with modern vehicles. The CPP leaders started with empty hands,” he said. “First, we began by using our lives to liberate the country and, secondly, [our] bare hands to develop the country.”
The political opposition reiterated on Tuesday their support for the date Oct 23, 1991—the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement—as the actual day when Cambodia finally found peace.
Formerly a public holiday, the anniversary of the Paris accords was removed from the holiday calendar by the CPP-led government in favor of Jan 7.
SRP acting Secretary-General Ke Sovannroth said people are well within their rights to choose not to celebrate Jan 7, and the SRP would be among those that do not mark the anniversary.
“Jan 7 belongs to one group of people only,” she said.
Human Rights Party Secretary-General Yem Ponhearith said that despite the claims of development by the CPP it wasn’t really until the Paris Peace Agreement was signed that Cambodia really saw any real progress.
“From Jan 7[,1979,] until 1991 the country was poor,” he said. “The Khmer Rouge were toppled but the country at the time was controlled by the Vietnamese. We did not have real independence.”
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