The Cambodian People’s Party will on Saturday mark the 38th anniversary of the Vietnamese military’s overthrow of Pol Pot by holding martial “sports” events in central Phnom Penh, it said yesterday.
Army equipment including tanks and armoured personnel carriers were yesterday moved to the city’s Koh Pich island in preparation for the event, which will start today with round-robin events and close with finals on Saturday – the anniversary of the January 7, 1979, capture of Phnom Penh by Vietnamese troops and Khmer Rouge defectors.
Speaking on Koh Pich in the morning, Hun Manet, head of the Ministry of Defence’s counterterrorism department and the eldest son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, said that the public should not be concerned by the sight of soldiers simulating war situations.
“We are holding this to commemorate the 38th anniversary of our national day of January 7 . . . and to commemorate our veterans who sacrificed their lives to the cause of nation and country,” he said.
“Thirdly, it is to build a relationship of unity between the public and the armed forces,” he added. “We are also raising funds to help veterans.”
Manet said such competitions had in the past been held inside military schools, but that the military had decided this year to hold them on Koh Pich so that people could watch and even participate.
The events will include soldiers competing to carry injured victims to safety, as well as in footraces and competitions involving the negotiation of military-style obstacle courses. Civilians will also compete to take home medallions or participation awards.
Asked about the potential for public concern at the sight of things like tanks in the city, Manet said the military had done what it could to make sure people understood that war was not breaking out.
“Organising this sport is not a threat, and to mobilise the army and this equipment, City Hall told us we had to inform the relevant authorities,” he said. “City Hall has the obligation to inform the public not to be surprised . . . and to feel secure.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he thought the events for January 7 – which also marks the CPP’s seizure of power and which the opposition has long rejected as a national holiday – were a strange choice. He also questioned their characterisation as “sports”.
“How can this be a sport? They are bringing tanks in a line into Phnom Penh. This is not right,” Sovann said, explaining that the CPP’s event would be widely interpreted as a public show of force with the June 4 commune elections around the corner.
“In peaceful countries, like Japan, over two or three years, we have not seen a single Japanese soldier walking in the city,” he said. “We say our country is at peace, but the army shows their forces all over the city. It contradicts what the ruling party has claimed.”
Only last month, deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha had praised the government on the issue of sports, commenting during a December 10 public speech: “If we respected human rights, and sports continue improving, the government would be on the right track.”