THE celebration of life and liberty, or the commemoration of foreign dominance over
Cambodia? The sudden reintroduction of the January 7 national holiday has revived
political tensions over the historic date marking the anniversary of the ousting
of the Khmer Rouge regime by Vietnamese forces.
Twelve members of the Funcinpec party's steering committee, in a rare move, have
written to the King in apparent opposition to the return of the holiday.
Meanwhile, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, on whose initiative the holiday has been
brought back, has staunchly defended the date's importance for Cambodia.
The holiday, which has not been recognized in Cambodia for four years, was this year
renewed by a Jan 5 government circular signed by Hun Sen and his Funcinpec co-Prime
Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
The circular, which returns Jan 7 to the list of official holidays as Victory Day,
was approved by the King.
January 7 has long had political significance for Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party
(CPP), which was born out of the 1979 Vietnamese invasion which removed the Khmer
Rouge regime responsible for the deaths of at least one million Khmers.
But to others who joined the resistance against the Vietnamese-installed government
in the 1980s, the date also marks the start of the decade-long occupation of Vietnamese
troops in Cambodia.
"The celebration of January 7 is not a monopolized celebration for the CPP,
but for the general public because it was a great movement to liberate the nation
and lives," Hun Sen said in Svay Rieng, the first province liberated by the
Vietnamese, on Jan 4.
But he urged that the Vietnamese help should not be forgotten, saying: "By remembering
January 7, we do not forget the assistance of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the
Vietnamese soldiers and people who sacrificed their lives to rescue the Cambodian
"We express our gratitude to Vietnam [for] that time, in order to show the truth
remains the truth."
On the same day, the 12 senior members of Funcinpec - which fought the Vietnamese
from resistance border camps - wrote a brief letter to the King saying they wanted
to inform him that:
"It is true that January 7, 1979 was the day when Cambodia and the Khmer people
were freed from the Pol Pot regime.
"But January 7, 1979 was also the day when foreign troops invaded Cambodia."
Among those who signed the letter was Deputy Prime Minister Ing Keat, new Funcinpec
secretary-general Loy Sim Chheang and Funcinpec Ministers Ung Hout, Tea Chamrath,
Tol Lah, Pou Sothirak and Veng Sereyvuth.
Hun Sen's Jan 4 speech indicated the holiday's revival would be endorsed by a Royal
But in a Jan 5 letter to the Prime Ministers, the King - who was the public head
of the anti-Vietnamese resistance and founded Funcinpec - asked them to declare the
"In order to avoid some difficult political issues, I am of the view that issuing
a circular by the government is better than a Royal decree," the King wrote.
Later that day, the PMs issued the circular.
Nady Tan, secretary-general of the Royal Government and one of the Funcinpec members
who signed the letter to the King, would not say whether attempts would be made to
stop recognizing the holiday in future years.
"It's very difficult to predict the future," he said, adding: "We
have no authority or influence to tell the King what to do."
January 7 passed without any official government ceremony, though all civil servants,
including Tan, were given Jan 8 off.
"You have to take a look at the position of the government employees,"
Tan said. "When we are to have a day off, we have a day off. It's very simple."
Hun Sen, meanwhile, marked the day by inaugurating a new park which bears his name
beside the Phnom Penh riverfront.
"Today is the day that saved us from Pol Pot's genocide, the day that gave us
the second birth," he told a 15,000-strong crowd at the Hun Sen Park near the
Naga floating casino.
"Had it not been for January 7 , there wouldn't have been the Paris Peace
agreement, nor UNTAC in Cambodia and everything we have today," he added.
The official CPP celebration was held that afternoon at the party's headquarters,
where 10,000 guests were treated to free drinks, food and cigarettes.
In his address, CPP president Chea Sim denounced the continuing destruction by the
Khmer Rouge in the countryside and also criticized "a number of politicians"
for trying to discredit the government.
He described the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 regime as the darkest period in Cambodia's
history, which would have destroyed the nation had it not been stopped.
"This historic victory has saved the nation. It has saved millions of lives
in a timely manner. It has brought democracy and the respect for human rights back
to life and has actively participated in the effort for regional peace and stability,"
The strongest criticism of the Jan 7 holiday came the next day in a statement from
dissident politician Sam Rainsy, in Paris, which expressed "regret and opposition".
Rainsy described the holiday as an affront to the memory of those who died in the
resistance groups who fought the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.
Hun Sen angrily responded to criticism when he gave a speech in Takeo on Jan 8, saying
that anyone who condemned the holiday was the same as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
In reference to the Funcinpec members' letter, he said that some people, despite
knowing that Pol Pot had killed many Cambodians, had said that "January 7 was
the day foreign troops invaded Cambodia.
"Now I am asking you," he said. "If I did not ask foreigners to liberate
the country, who would have come? Answer it, answer the question."