CPP members and a crowd of thousands gathered at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday where party President Chea Sim feted the 31st anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge while cautioning others against criticizing the politically-charged public holiday.
Mr Chea Sim, who is also Senate president, marked the celebration with a speech praising the victory over the Pol Pot-led government, brought about through support from the Vietnamese armed forces, which lead the charge into Phnom Penh on Jan 7, 1979.
“The people of Cambodia remember always that January 7 is their second date of birth, because if it were not for January 7, there would be no life and present conditions,” Mr Chea Sim told an audience sporting matching white hats and shirts displaying the CPP logo.
The ruling party’s leader also chided those who oppose the day’s celebration, noting “a few people have always assigned themselves as enemies of the January 7 victory while taking actions that are contrary to the principles of democracy and the rule of law…all in the aim of preventing the country’s progress.”
Though the country was liberated from the Khmer Rouge regime on Jan 7, 1979, the decade-long Vietnamese occupation that lasted until 1989 has led those who oppose the CPP to remember the day as the beginning of a foreign invasion by an historic foe.
Mr Chea Sim also praised the work of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia but stated, the CPP “oppose attempts to use the chamber for ill intentions which would have an impact on peace, national reconciliation and development.”
CPP leaders, Prime Minister Hun Sen especially, have said the Khmer Rouge tribunal should not seek the prosecution of any leaders of the former regime beyond the five already in custody claiming to do so will spark renewed civil war in the country.
Mr Chea Sim and Mr Hun Sen are also among six senior CPP officials who have been called as witnesses by the Khmer Rouge tribunal but have ignored the summonses.
Those summonses to the CPP leadership have sparked strong protests from the ruling party and warnings against the tribunal to not overstep its bounds in Cambodia.
Following Mr Chea Sim’s speech, dancers waved flags and sang songs to officials seated before them, including US Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, the first US government official ever to attend the contentious celebration.
Sticking to the celebration’s annual routine, Mr Chea Sim, joined by Mr Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, released doves in the air before teenagers let loose bunches of balloons.
Earlier in the morning, a live band played a slow number while the singer crooned out the lyrics, “January 7th is on my mind.”
Reference was also made yesterday to Cambodia’s border demarcation work with Vietnam and Laos, with Mr Chea Sim saying the party “appreciates” the results achieved from the efforts but groups have taken steps to counteract the progress.
“The Party strongly condemns circles that neglect national interest while bringing about actions aimed at preventing the above efforts,” Mr Chea Sim said.
SRP lawmaker and spokesman Yim Sovann stopped short of saying Mr Chea Sim was talking about SRP President Sam Rainsy, who is facing criminal charges stemming from a visit made to the Vietnamese border where he claims responsibility for uprooting demarcation posts, and stated simply Mr Chea Sim had the right to express his views.
“I agree with him that demarcation must be done,” Mr Sovann said. “But it must be done without the loss of land for people.”
As for yesterday’s celebrations, Mr Sovann said the country should also commemorate Oct 23, 1991, when Cambodia’s military factions signed peace accords in Paris to ending years of civil war and international ostracism.
Mr Sovann said that tolerance must also be extended to those who do not celebrate Jan 7 as a victory for Cambodia.
“The people have different views, please don’t consider them as animals if they have different views than the CPP,” he said.