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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Funcinpec MPs rally against Jan 7 holiday

Funcinpec MPs rally against Jan 7 holiday

THE celebration of life and liberty, or the commemoration of foreign dominance over

Cambodia? The sudden reintroduction of the January 7 national holiday has revived

political tensions over the historic date marking the anniversary of the ousting

of the Khmer Rouge regime by Vietnamese forces.

Twelve members of the Funcinpec party's steering committee, in a rare move, have

written to the King in apparent opposition to the return of the holiday.

Meanwhile, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, on whose initiative the holiday has been

brought back, has staunchly defended the date's importance for Cambodia.

The holiday, which has not been recognized in Cambodia for four years, was this year

renewed by a Jan 5 government circular signed by Hun Sen and his Funcinpec co-Prime

Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The circular, which returns Jan 7 to the list of official holidays as Victory Day,

was approved by the King.

January 7 has long had political significance for Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party

(CPP), which was born out of the 1979 Vietnamese invasion which removed the Khmer

Rouge regime responsible for the deaths of at least one million Khmers.

But to others who joined the resistance against the Vietnamese-installed government

in the 1980s, the date also marks the start of the decade-long occupation of Vietnamese

troops in Cambodia.

"The celebration of January 7 is not a monopolized celebration for the CPP,

but for the general public because it was a great movement to liberate the nation

and lives," Hun Sen said in Svay Rieng, the first province liberated by the

Vietnamese, on Jan 4.

But he urged that the Vietnamese help should not be forgotten, saying: "By remembering

January 7, we do not forget the assistance of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the

Vietnamese soldiers and people who sacrificed their lives to rescue the Cambodian

people.

"We express our gratitude to Vietnam [for] that time, in order to show the truth

remains the truth."

On the same day, the 12 senior members of Funcinpec - which fought the Vietnamese

from resistance border camps - wrote a brief letter to the King saying they wanted

to inform him that:

"It is true that January 7, 1979 was the day when Cambodia and the Khmer people

were freed from the Pol Pot regime.

"But January 7, 1979 was also the day when foreign troops invaded Cambodia."

Among those who signed the letter was Deputy Prime Minister Ing Keat, new Funcinpec

secretary-general Loy Sim Chheang and Funcinpec Ministers Ung Hout, Tea Chamrath,

Tol Lah, Pou Sothirak and Veng Sereyvuth.

Hun Sen's Jan 4 speech indicated the holiday's revival would be endorsed by a Royal

decree.

But in a Jan 5 letter to the Prime Ministers, the King - who was the public head

of the anti-Vietnamese resistance and founded Funcinpec - asked them to declare the

holiday.

"In order to avoid some difficult political issues, I am of the view that issuing

a circular by the government is better than a Royal decree," the King wrote.

Later that day, the PMs issued the circular.

Nady Tan, secretary-general of the Royal Government and one of the Funcinpec members

who signed the letter to the King, would not say whether attempts would be made to

stop recognizing the holiday in future years.

"It's very difficult to predict the future," he said, adding: "We

have no authority or influence to tell the King what to do."

January 7 passed without any official government ceremony, though all civil servants,

including Tan, were given Jan 8 off.

"You have to take a look at the position of the government employees,"

Tan said. "When we are to have a day off, we have a day off. It's very simple."

Hun Sen, meanwhile, marked the day by inaugurating a new park which bears his name

beside the Phnom Penh riverfront.

"Today is the day that saved us from Pol Pot's genocide, the day that gave us

the second birth," he told a 15,000-strong crowd at the Hun Sen Park near the

Naga floating casino.

"Had it not been for January 7 [1979], there wouldn't have been the Paris Peace

agreement, nor UNTAC in Cambodia and everything we have today," he added.

The official CPP celebration was held that afternoon at the party's headquarters,

where 10,000 guests were treated to free drinks, food and cigarettes.

In his address, CPP president Chea Sim denounced the continuing destruction by the

Khmer Rouge in the countryside and also criticized "a number of politicians"

for trying to discredit the government.

He described the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 regime as the darkest period in Cambodia's

history, which would have destroyed the nation had it not been stopped.

"This historic victory has saved the nation. It has saved millions of lives

in a timely manner. It has brought democracy and the respect for human rights back

to life and has actively participated in the effort for regional peace and stability,"

he said.

The strongest criticism of the Jan 7 holiday came the next day in a statement from

dissident politician Sam Rainsy, in Paris, which expressed "regret and opposition".

Rainsy described the holiday as an affront to the memory of those who died in the

resistance groups who fought the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.

Hun Sen angrily responded to criticism when he gave a speech in Takeo on Jan 8, saying

that anyone who condemned the holiday was the same as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

In reference to the Funcinpec members' letter, he said that some people, despite

knowing that Pol Pot had killed many Cambodians, had said that "January 7 was

the day foreign troops invaded Cambodia.

"Now I am asking you," he said. "If I did not ask foreigners to liberate

the country, who would have come? Answer it, answer the question."

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