In his first public remarks of the year, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday took pains to recount his experience under the Khmer Rouge and thanked Vietnam for overthrowing the brutal communist regime.
Speaking at the inauguration of a Vietnamese hospital, in the presence of visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Hun Sen said he considers January 7, 1979, as “the second birthday” of the Cambodian people.
“Thanks for the party, the people and the government especially – Vietnamese volunteer soldiers – who joined to liberate Cambodians from the Pol Pot genocidal regime and helped to settle problems allowing Cambodians to survive,” he said.
Had the Vietnamese not entered Cambodia and overthrown the regime, he said, millions more would have been killed.
“Those who forget January 7, that’s their matter,” he said. But the day ensured that Phnom Penh could progress from a “deserted place into the most populous city”.
Hun Sen said yesterday had special meaning to him as it was the anniversary of the day in 1976 when he and his wife were separated by the regime. His wife, he claimed, was ultimately taken away to dig a channel at a worksite – a fate he would not discover until they were reunited in February 1979.
“At this time and this hour [in 1976], I did not know whether my wife was dead or alive,” he said.
The hospital inauguration was followed later in the day by a closed-door meeting between the two premiers.
Speaking yesterday evening, Hun Sen’s spokesman, Eang Sophalleth, said the pair agreed to boost transit connections, tourism, telecommunications and banking, as well as agriculture.
Additionally, Nguyen Tan Dung agreed to help renovate National Road 78 in Ratanakkiri – where Vietnamese companies boast vast holdings – and sell 200 megawatts of power to Cambodia.
Also yesterday, representatives of the embattled Khmer Kampuchea Krom community sent a letter to Hun Sen urging him to raise the issue of mistreatment of Khmers living in Vietnam’s lower Mekong Delta region.
In the letter, they raise the case of two monks and six civilians who are now in prison after holding protests calling for the construction of a Khmer school.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MEAS SOKCHEA AND CHEANG SOKHA