Prime Minister Hun Sen on June 20 commemorated the 45th anniversary of his “resistance journey” to Vietnam in 1977, at the military historical site of Techo Koh Thmor X-16 in Tonloung commune’s Koh Thmor village of Tbong Khmum province’s Memot district.
The premier’s move on June 20, 1977 marked the first steps in a long journey to liberate the nation from the Khmer Rouge.
In his speech at X-16, Hun Sen said that in the last 45 years, Cambodia has undergone a long journey, from the overthrow of the Pol Pot genocidal regime on January 7, 1979 to national reconciliation through the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991 and eventually bringing about comprehensive peace through his win-win policy with Khmer Rouge soldier reintegration on December 29, 1998.
He noted that during this period, Cambodia has also emerged from being a low-income country to being a lower middle-income nation, with poverty rates having dropped below 10 per cent.
“Departing from the country and leaving behind a wife who was five months pregnant was no joke for a youth just 25 years of age. But standing by and letting Pol Pot kill us all or just taking my own life first were not good options, either. Although our hope of success stood at one per cent or even less, we had to take action while we still could,” he said.
Hun Sen and four other Khmer Rouge soldiers – Nuch Thorng, Nhek Huon, San Sanh and Va Por Ean – left Cambodia, their wives and their children behind in order to travel across the border into Vietnam and seek support there to liberate the country, according to a documentary film about the journey titled “Marching Towards National Salvation”.
From the journey that began on June 20, 1977 came the eventual formation of the armed forces of Kampuchea United Front for National Salvation (KUFNS) which officially formed on December 2, 1978.
Hun Sen said that the ashes of 49 Cambodian KUFNS soldiers were still being kept in Vietnam and he asked the government officials gathered for his speech whether their remains should now be repatriated.
“Now, I would like [you] to consider whether we should repatriate the bones of our fighters back to Cambodia and store them at this historical place,” he said, adding that the 49 soldiers would be buried at this historical site because their relatives are still unknown.
He suggested that the ashes should be repatriated home in the same manner that Vietnam has been repatriating the ashes of their volunteer soldiers back to Vietnam.
The prime minister questioned rhetorically whether it was right or wrong for Vietnamese troops to intervene and liberate the Cambodian people, saying the answer could be seen by the hybrid court formed between Cambodia and the UN called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), commonly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
“If you want to know whether the intervention by Vietnam was right or wrong, you have to ask the hybrid court formed by the UN and Cambodia,” he said. “This was an acknowledgement by the UN proving that Vietnam’s intervention was correct. If their intervention wasn’t necessary then why would we have a tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge?”
He said Vietnamese troops had completely withdrawn from Cambodia on September 30, 1989, more than two years before the Paris Peace Agreement of October 23, 1991.
Before the Vietnamese troops pulled out, their advisors had already withdrawn on June 2, 1988 after he requested in early 1988 to allow the advisors and experts from Vietnam to leave the country before their troops did.
Hun Sen raised the point to respond to an unnamed critic who had said that Vietnamese troops would not have withdrawn had there had not been a Paris Peace Agreement.
“Vietnam withdrew their troops before the Paris Peace Agreement, let me confirm the facts and be clear about this,” he said. “Some people said that it was because of the Paris Peace Agreement that Vietnam withdrew their troops. This completely contradicts the truth of what happened on Cambodian territory.”
Yang Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said that the Khmer Rouge were defeated with significant support from Vietnam’s military. However, historians often have contradictory views and some see their intervention as a liberation, while others see it as an invasion.
“Nevertheless, we can see that our survival is a result of that cooperation,” he said, adding that commemorating this historical event also reminds people about the past and allows for future cooperation between the two countries based on the principle of equality.
Vietnamese Prime Minster Pham Minh Chinh, who also attended the event, said Vietnam respects the good relationship it has with its good neighbour Cambodia, which is based on traditional friendship, comprehensive ties and sustainable cooperation.
He said Vietnam wished to strengthen and promote cooperation in all sectors, such as in politics, diplomacy, defense, economics, trade, investment, culture, education and tourism to connect the economy and create a favorable environment for investors.
“I believe that Vietnam-Cambodia relations will flourish and be stronger. The commemoration of the 45th anniversary of Samdech Hun Sen’s march to topple Pol Pot’s genocidal regime reminds us not only of a historic event, but provides vivid evidence of the friendship and honest solidarity between the people of the two countries, which younger generations must remember and preserve,” Chinh said.