As Cambodia celebrated the 70th anniversary of its independence on November 9, King Norodom Sihamoni called for national unity while Prime Minister Hun Manet pledged to follow suit to the heroism of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk. Manet swore to protect the independence, sovereignty, peace and development of the Kingdom.

November 9 saw the celebration of the 70th anniversary of two major historical events: Independence Day, held at the Independence Monument, and the formation of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), observed in front of the Royal Palace.

Cambodia gained sovereignty from France on November 9, 1953, under the leadership of then-Prince Sihanouk, who also formed the RCAF on the same day. This followed 90 years as a French protectorate.

King Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Manet, National Assembly president Khuon Sudary, Senate president Say Chhum and other government leaders took part in the two commemorative events, with foreign diplomats and other dignitaries also in attendance.

Addressing the celebrations, the King briefed the guests on the historical struggle to gain independence led by the King Father, who passed away 11 years ago.

He explained that the movement for national unity was initiated by the King Father in 1952, who considered it his royal duty to gain independence for the nation. People from all walks of life joined his “citizenry militia” and liberated large swathes of Kampong Thom, Siem Reap and Battambang provinces.

King Sihamoni said it was only when France saw that they were facing a growing resistance movement in Cambodia and in North Vietnam that they agreed to work with Cambodia on the transfer of power and authority in the sectors of the nation they still controlled. This work continued in Phnom Penh until full independence was granted to Cambodia.

“From November 9, 1953, Cambodia had equal status with France after becoming a fully independent state,” he said, while recalling how the King Father went on to establish the prosperous “Sangkum Reastr Niyum” regime and develop the country into a prosperous, neutral “island of peace” in Southeast Asia.

The King also praised the military for their contributions to protecting the nation. He also praised the modern leaders of Cambodia, both now and under previous mandates.

“Currently, our brave soldiers not only protect our motherland and peace in the country, but also fulfil missions under the UN, in many different countries around the world,” he said.

He expressed his appreciation for Manet’s “comprehensive political message” while evaluating current domestic and international affairs, particularly in socio-economic terms. He believes that Manet will lead the country towards development, improve people’s livelihoods and alleviate poverty.

“I appeal to Cambodian people from all walks of life to unite under the Constitution and contribute to the protection and development of our country across all sectors,” he added.

Addressing the ceremonies, Manet pledged to follow the heroic example of the King Father, highlighting that peace and independence had come from people’s struggles, and not by accident. The country’s independence, he reiterated, came from the efforts of the Khmer people who devoted themselves to the crusade.

“On behalf of all Cambodians and the young generation of leaders, we pledge to commit all of our physical and mental strength to follow the historic achievement and heroism of the King Father. We will unite to follow the royal leadership of His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni to nurture and protect our independence, sovereignty, pace and development, and the continuity of the Khmer nation,” he said.

Regarding the anniversary of the RCAF, Manet told the army to resolutely dedicate their “flesh and blood” to defending the territory, the monarch, the Constitution and the government, which was born from the national election held in a multi-party democratic manner, as stated in the Constitution.

US ambassador to Cambodia W Patrick Murphy extended his congratulations on behalf of the US government and people following the event.

“Happy 70th Independence Day to all my Cambodian friends! I was honoured to present good wishes from the American people to His Majesty King Sihamoni. We congratulate the resilient people of the Kingdom and look forward to further deepening our friendship,” he tweeted.

UK ambassador Dominic Williams noted – in a video clip to commemorate the celebrations – that the 1953 independence was crucial, as it enabled Cambodia to be equal with other countries and independently develop itself, as well as preserving its own culture and language.

UN country coordinator Jo Scheuer tweeted: “We at the UN in Cambodia deeply appreciate our long partnership and look forward to our journey towards realising all Global Goals for an inclusive, free, just and prosperous society.”

The Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh also joined the celebrations of the anniversary.

Seun Sam, a policy researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from the crusade for independence.

“Cambodian leaders are capable of building a bright future for Cambodia, by upholding independence,” he said.