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PM: Victory Day a second birthday

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Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the celebration marking the 40th anniversary of Cambodia’s liberation from the Khmer Rouge at Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh on Monday. Heng Chivoan

PM: Victory Day a second birthday

PRIME Minister Hun Sen used his Victory Day address at Olympic Stadium on Monday to hail January 7 – the day in 1979 when the Khmer Rouge was overthrown – as a second birthday for Cambodians.

However, opposition figure Eng Chhai Eang, in words echoed by political ally Sam Rainsy, used Monday’s 40th anniversary to claim that “the real owner of January 7 is the Vietnamese government”, something dismissed by ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Eysan as “causing division”.

An academic, meanwhile, said “people must learn from history”, and warned that using such language “damages society”.

The prime minister said to tens of thousands of people in the capital’s national sports arena that Cambodians acknowledged the contribution made by Vietnam in the defeat of the murderous ultra-Maoist regime, said to have killed around a quarter of the population.

“The Cambodian people refer to January 7, 1979 as their second birthday. Without a victory on January 7, we wouldn’t have today. This is a historical fact that nobody can alter or destroy."

“The Cambodian national unity [was] led by the CPP with a major contribution, including time and effectiveness, from the Vietnamese army. There would be no January 7, 1979 victory without the combination of these two forces,” Hun Sen said.

‘Puppet leader’

CNRP co-founder Rainsy and former co-vice-president Chhai Eang used Monday’s anniversary to claim that the date was when Hun Sen was “installed as a puppet leader by the Vietnamese army”.

Chhai Eang said the Vietnamese were the true “owners” of January 7, 1979.

“Hun Sen knows that the Cambodian people don’t like him . . . Therefore, he needs to depend on foreign nations to keep his power. In order to depend on foreign nations, he needs to serve foreign interests. He does not care what Cambodian people went through,” Rainsy said on Facebook on Monday.

Chhai Eang posted on his Facebook page on Monday morning that: “The real owner of January 7, 1979 is . . . the Vietnamese. Those [Cambodians involved] were merely actors that the Vietnamese government installed as puppets.”

However, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said that while the Kingdom was enjoying peace and political stability, there were still some “ill-intentioned people” who sought to change history to create new problems and cause discrimination against people from other nations.

“These ill-intentioned people always use false claims, accusing others of being puppets of this country or that country. This is the reason behind Cambodian division and [why] other countries look down on us.

“Some Cambodians such as the convict Sam Rainsy behave this way to serve other nations and falsely accuse the CPP of being puppets for a neighbouring country, while he himself is the puppet of foreign countries.”

Merely an opinion

History professor Sombo Manara said such remarks by opposition leaders were merely opinion. From a historical perspective, he said January 7 marked a new history for Cambodia after its people were liberated from the genocidal Khmer Rouge after almost four years.

“We should not make such accusations [as Rainsy and Chhai Eng have done]. After three years, eight months and 20 days until [January 7, 1979] all Cambodians, including my family, were liberated from hardship. We must acknowledge that hardship."

“To prevent this from happening again, we must learn from history. We must move forward and respect the people who liberated us . . . When we are angry, we curse each other, but this will not benefit us. We only create anger and confusion . . . and damage society,” he said.

Forty-seven-year-old Kong Sokhom, who participated in the 40th Victory Day celebrations at the Olympic stadium on Monday, told The Post that he would never forget the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge period.

He said members of his family were killed and, without Vietnamese help, all Cambodian people might have died.

“The claims from [opposition] leaders that the people who liberated the country from the Khmer Rouge regime were Vietnamese puppets is an act of hatred and racial discrimination."

“They are attempting to alter history because, without the Vietnamese, we all might have died. Even infants were being killed."

“January 7, 1979 was not a Vietnamese invasion, but the date [when Vietnam] saved Cambodia from a tragic era. Most people who survived are alive today because of Vietnam’s help,” Sokhom said.

Post reporters asked Rainsy and Chhai Eang whether they had relatives who had endured the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period, but at the time of going to print neither had responded.