Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Don't forget the history

Don't forget the history

Don't forget the history

Dear Editor:

I read the article entitled "January 7 and its malcontents" (PPP, Jan 10,

2001). Your effort in trying to give a balanced view on this very difficult and sensitive

issue is very commendable. However, I would like to give a more historical point

of view based on two recent sources written by Vietnamese expatriates, a book in

French by Colonel Bui Tin, a former editor of "Nhan Dan", the Vietnam armed

forces, entitled "945-1999; Vietnam: La face cachee du regime", and a book

which appeared on the Internet by Dang Anh Tuan, of the French research center NRCS

entitled "Vietnam: the Land of the dragons and Legends".

Bui Tin was an eyewitness to the invasion of Cambodia since day one in 1978. He was

later in charge of forming the national press corps of Cambodia. In that capacity

he attended many secret and high level meetings between the Vietnamese occupation

authorities under the supervision of Le Duc Tho and General Le Duc Anh Commander

of the occupation forces, and the Vietnamese-picked Cambodian government representatives

that included Pen Sovan, Chansi, Bou Thong, among others. From the quote below ...

observers can clearly see that aspects of the invasion, its organization, management,

design and implementation were performed by Vietnamese policy-makers with the Cambodian

"chosen leaders" as bystanders if not as sheer pawns:

"As for me, I remained three years in Cambodia, returning to Ho Chi Minh City

and Hanoi only occasionally. During this period, I gathered... documents. Some were

coming from the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh. There was, in particular, a text of

agreement signed on July 1976, allowing the Chinese army to build the largest airport

in all Southeast Asia in Kampong Chhnang. There was also congratulations sent by

Mao Tse Tung to Pol Pot for...crushing, as completely and as quickly, the capitalists,

the exploiting land owners, and the reactionary lackeys, a historic and bloody achievement.

But to apply this proletarian internationalism, that revolution had to crush one

million skulls with shovels and clubs on behalf of socialism and the purity of communism,

and Marxism-Leninism!

"From these KR documents, I was able to examine their genocidal policy. It was

really much worse than the crimes committed by the Nazis...but this policy was cleverly

hidden under the mantels of pure communism... This sentiment would have lasted longer

had we not made numerous errors later on. The first one, was the fact that we stayed

too long in Cambodia. I thought that we should have withdrawn much earlier and without

any condition attached. After the liberation of Cambodia, we were enameled with the

pretense of arrogance. In the midst of the communist party we were told that we must

exercise our duty as international proletarian in order to reinforce and export to

other countries. However, for the Vietnamese people, it was as if we were guests

to a house belonging to somebody else.

"The main person responsible for the policy in Cambodia was Le Duc Tho. He was

assigned...to set up a new party and a new government. Before even our armed forces

had reached Phnom Penh, he presided over a meeting in the border region known as

the "Bec de Canard", near Snoul, for the purpose of nominating a Cambodian

government to replace the one led by Pol Pot. Among the "chosen," was Pen

Sovan, who became minister of defense and who was also appointed as Secretary General

of the Cambodian Communist party. His appointment was no great surprise to Cambodians

because, for more than 10 years he managed the broadcasting in the Cambodian language

for the Voice of Vietnam radio. There was also Chansi, also a member of the Communist

Party of Vietnam, who before 1979 had managed an electrical sub-station in the province

of Vinh Phu in Vietnam. That...did not prevent him becoming Prime Minister of Cambodia

until his...death in 1983.

"As to Bou Thong, who became Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia with the rank

of general, he was only a captain in the Vietnamese army, stationed in a small district

in the highland... In Phnom Penh, Le Duc Tho often stayed in a villa behind Chamcar

Mon... There, he called for meetings with senior officials of the party...I saw him

talk to those Cambodian officials at the royal palace in 1981, and also in Thu Duc,

near Saigon, at the beginning of 1982. If I were not personally present in those

meetings, I would never have believed that such scenes could have taken place. Le

Duc Tho, caught in his oratory frenzy, had forgotten his nationality and that of

his counterparts, and he ingratiated himself to freely lecturing these officials

like schoolboys.

"When Pen Sovan was dismissed from his job...in 1981, it was the work of Le

Duc Tho - supported by Le Duc Anh. On their recommendation, the Polit Bureau accepted

in Hanoi the "call" from several members of the Communist Party of Cambodia.

But the Cambodian people never had anything to do with either the appointment or

the fall of Pen Sovan from power. What did Pen Sovan do wrong? At the beginning,

Pen Sovan who was a major in the Vietnamese armed forces, continued to act as a junior

officer. During a meeting, he stood up at attention to salute General Le Duc Anh!

The latter had to remind Pen Sovan that as a minister of defense, he was his superior,

and he was told to stop acting that way. However, after having been received with

great honor by Brezhnev, Pen Sovan had changed his attitude toward Vietnam. According

to a Vietnamese adviser in charge of training Cambodian cadre, he did not always

know how to hide his unhappiness about his lack of real power while being secretary

general of the party and minister of defense, at the military level, he was ignored

by general Le Duc Anh. Such behavior was intolerable in the eyes of our Directorate,

therefore, Pen Sovan was brought back to Vietnam where he was in house arrest and

closely watched near Hanoi, where he spent 10 years. We only allowed him to return

to Cambodia after the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops, when the United Nations took


From the above I would like to note that contrary to what Mr. Pen Sovan claimed that

he was unaware of the Vietnamese intention when he agreed to be the head of the so

called "Salvation Front government". This is not possible, because he was

a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party and a Major in the Vietnamese Armed forces.

He is either very naive or he did not tell the truth. His belated remorse for having

worked for the Vietnamese is to be commended. But, he should not forget that he was

part of the problem of allowing the Vietnamese to implement their historical expansionist

not to say imperialist policy and strategy toward Cambodia.

I now turn to a Vietnamese historical view of this expansionist/imperialist policy

dating back to the Tenth Century. In the words of Dang Anh Tuan...the strategy and

policy that have been used by the Vietnamese to conquer its neighbors, especially

Champa and Kampuchea Krom, is analyzed as follows:

"The first kingdoms of the legendary dynasties were located north in Tonkin.

By the 10th century they had, as a name kingdom Van Lang, then kingdom Âu Lac,

started from the Red River delta, the cradle of the Vietnamese nation, a movement

characterized as Nam Tie'n (Advancement toward the South). This nation relentlessly

pushed new cells in each parcel of land favorable to its mode of growth. It was based

on a multitude of small, politically independent hearths consisting of soldier-peasants

re-inforced sometimes by troops from the central authority, and behaved like a gigantic

madrepore forming its atoll little by little, ending up encircling and assimilating

the new country and thus enlarging Viet-Nam. It had the advantage of a triple coherent

national structure...

It constituted an undeniable advantage for a policy of expansion but would on the

other hand always require a strong central authority. At the least relaxation of

the latter, the country crumbles easily. This is one of the main reasons of why the

history of Vietnam is filled with disorders and eternal wars. This policy of nibbling

silkworms allowed the slow absorption of the space occupied by the Khmer and the

Chàm people. Their vestiges currently found in central Vietnam (Phan Thiet,

Da Nang etc.) and in the delta of the Mekong River illustrate very well this conquest.

The attachment to independence has been proven many times in the past and in the

war in Vietnam. It requires long centuries of struggle, wars, pains and jolts for

Vietnam to finally become the size of a dragon today."

The purpose of this letter is not to stir up hatred between the Vietnamese and Cambodian

people, but there is hardly any Cambodian voice raised in the defense of Cambodian

people against Vietnamese imperialism without being accused of being cynical or worse

still a racist. I am neither a politician nor a Vietnamese hater. I wish that the

two neighboring people can live as friends one day. But before that process of reconciliation

can start Vietnam will have to stop its imperialist policy and must apologize to

the Cambodian people, not the other way around...

- Naranhkiri Tith, Ph. D., SAIS The Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC


  • ‘Kingdom one of safest to visit in Covid-19 era’

    The Ministry of Tourism on January 12 proclaimed Cambodia as one of the safest countries to visit in light of the Kingdom having been ranked number one in the world by the Senegalese Economic Prospective Bureau for its success in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. In rankings

  • Ministry mulls ASEAN+3 travel bubble

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to launch a travel bubble allowing transit between Cambodia and 12 other regional countries in a bid to resuscitate the tourism sector amid crushing impact of the ongoing spread of Covid-19, Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post on

  • Reeling in Cambodia’s real estate sector

    A new norm sets the scene but risks continue to play out in the background A cold wind sweeps through the streets of Boeung Trabek on an early January morning as buyers and traders engage in commerce under bright blue skies. From a distance, the

  • Quarantine site in north Phnom Penh inaugurated

    A four-building quarantine centre in Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district was formally inaugurated on January 6. The centre can house up to 500 people, according to Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng. At the inauguration ceremony, Sreng said the municipal hall had cooperated with the Ministry

  • Kingdom accepts Chinese vaccine, PM first to get jab

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said China would offer Cambodia an immediate donation of one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Sinopharm company. In an audio message addressing the public on the night of January 15, he said Cambodia has accepted the offer and

  • More than 5K workers rush from Thailand amid outbreak

    Following the recent outbreak of Covid-19 in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province, Cambodian migrants working in Thailand were gripped by worry over the situation and many rushed to return to their homeland. Over the past 10 days, more than 5,000 migrant workers have returned from Thailand through