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Hun Sen marks 40th Victory Day with ‘division’ warning

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Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives with National Assembly president Heng Samrin for the commemoration celebration marking the 40th anniversary of the January 7 Victory Day at Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh on Monday. Heng Chivoan

Hun Sen marks 40th Victory Day with ‘division’ warning

PRIME Minister Hun Sen marked the 40th anniversary of the toppling of the Khmer Rouge regime on Monday with a speech to a 60,000-strong crowd at Olympic Stadium where he said the “division” created by opposition politicians risked causing the re-occurrence of Cambodia’s most tragic period in recent history.

“There is a history that we cannot allow to happen again that is caused by the division resulting from the ambition of politicians who use people as a tool to achieve their personal interests without thinking about the fate of the nation,” the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) president told the crowd.

The prime minister also said his government is open to dialogue with opposition parties and civil society groups, and that it is essential to hear a variety of voices with the goal of building and developing the Kingdom.

“As the prime minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the president of the CPP that receives widespread support from the Cambodian people, I know clearly about my responsibility to the whole nation,” he said.

January 7 marks the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

“Over the past 40 years, everything has changed. Cambodia was completely destroyed, but we stood up and moved forward dynamically on the path of peace, democracy, cooperation and development."

“Although we have been living peacefully, and it is a proud achievement by all sectors that we have achieved what we have up to now, we must never forget the cruel events in the past that almost destroyed our nation to nothing."

“Understand deeply and correctly about the historic events that we went through, the valuable lessons for the nation and the goals for building and defending the country going forward,” he stressed.

An attendee at the gathering, 57-year-old Lieng Samnang, told The Post outside Olympic Stadium about his own experiences at the hands of the genocidal ultra-Maoist regime.

“I will never forget it because my siblings and parents were killed during the period. This regime persecuted and tortured Cambodians, so we will never forget it. I remember they would kill our parents and relatives if they took small things to eat because they were starving."

“The Vietnamese troops came and helped liberate us. Without them, our country would be completely destroyed. They slaughtered children and old people when the Vietnamese came to liberate us,” he said.

‘Erosion of democracy’

The prime minister reminded the crowd that the tragic events unfolded as a consequence of Lon Nol’s foreign-backed coup toppling the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime on March 18, 1970.

The coup instigated a civil war that would last until 1975, killing almost one million people. It was in the aftermath of this chaos that the Khmer Rouge seized the opportunity to rise to power.

It took over a decade for some semblance of normality to resume, and it wasn’t until 1993 that Cambodia held its first democratic national election – conducted by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia under the watchful eye of peacekeeping forces.

Since then, national elections have been consistently held in Cambodia, though some Western powers have questioned their legitimacy in recent years while Asian giants like China support them.

Critics point to apparent attacks on opposition groups and the independent media – most significantly the Supreme Court-dissolution of the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November 2017 – as signs of an erosion of democracy.

But in his speech at the Olympic Stadium, the prime minister defended Cambodia’s most recent national election in July 2018 – won by the ruling CPP in a landslide victory.

“The parliamentary election of the 6th legislature on July 29, 2018, was held in the free, fair, just and transparent manner, in a peaceful atmosphere and without violence in which 83 per cent of the registered voters went to cast their ballots,” the prime
minister said.

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