FORTY years after the coup d’etat that overthrew then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk and established a republican government, Prime Minister Hun Sen has blamed the regime for unleashing decades of civil war and the 1975 victory of the Khmer Rouge.
“Today, March 18, is the 40th anniversary of the country’s coup staged by the group of Lon Nol against Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the legal head
of state,” Hun Sen said at the opening of the National Road 78 in Ratanakkiri province on Thursday.
“It is the day that war erupted everywhere across the country. It was a huge destruction that cannot be forgotten.”
On March 18, 1970, General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirikmatak overthrew the Prince while he was abroad in the Soviet Union. On October 9, the regime’s leaders set up a US-style presidency and brought the country’s centuries-old monarchy to an end.
Hun Sen said that if there had been no coup the country would have been saved years of suffering. “More than two million tonnes of grenades and bombs were dropped into Cambodia, and many Cambodian people were injured and killed,” he said, adding that history had vindicated Sihanouk.
“The group who staged the coup are now dead, and we have no place to bury them in Cambodia – they all died abroad,” he said.
Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional Council, said in an interview last month that although the Khmer Republic failed, the events of 1970 came about as a result of popular discontent about the Vietnamese communist infiltration of Cambodia, to which the Prince had turned a blind eye. “There were a lot of people like that, who wanted to sacrifice themselves for the defence of their country,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO