While official gatherings for the National Day of Remembrance on May 20 were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Hun Sen commemorated the day by posting appeals to the public on Facebook to maintain peace.
He also published a video detailing his personal struggles during the Khmer Rouge’s reign.
The Day of Remembrance commemorates the genocide which claimed more than two million lives in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge’s rule from 1975 to 1979. May 20 marked the start of mass killings by the communist regime.
Through his Facebook page on Wednesday, Hun Sen asked citizens to remember the atrocities and blackouts that occurred while looking forward to the future.
“We must remember to keep the regime from returning and to maintain long-lasting peace and security. Peace has provided every opportunity to build a better society, family, community and nation,” his Facebook post said.
Hun Sen also posted videos totalling nearly one hour describing his decision to leave for Vietnam on June 20, 1977, to seek the support of the Vietnamese army in a desperate bid to liberate Cambodia from Pol Pot’s genocidal regime.
In the video, Hun Sen leaves Cambodia with four other comrades. Between the five of them, they have only three rifles and two bombs. They walk through the jungle and across the border from Kampong Cham to Vietnam’s Song Be province.
During the journey, they are met with gunfire from Pol Pot’s soldiers, landmines and resistance from Vietnamese forces.
His wife, Bun Rany, was five months pregnant at the time.
Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Eysan said the Day of Anger, which was later renamed as Day of Remembrance, is a day to remember the suffering inflicted on people during the genocidal regime of Pol Pot.
“This remembrance is not only for those who experienced the regime, which lasted three years, eight months and 20 days but also for the new generations.
“Without January 7 [Victory over Genocide Day] all the nieces, nephews and grandchildren would not have seen their grandmothers and parents alive. January 7 is a second birthday for all Cambodians,” he said.
The Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute director Kin Phea said the Day of Remembrance is an important day for many reasons.
First, he said, it is a political message for all people to learn the lessons of social divisions from the past.
The country was torn by civil war, thereby leading to tragedy and destruction for the whole nation.
Secondly, the day represents a message for people to place a high value on peace.
“We see that National Day of Remembrance causes controversy between the ruling party and the former opposition party. [The opposition party] views the day as a victory for the CPP.
“But I find that we should not forget and discuss the problem today because the experience of war was not only felt just by the CPP but by all Cambodian people.
“If we don’t take a moment to remember this, we might forget and cause the country to plunge into the fire of war once again,” he said.