Minister of Civil Service Hun Many, during a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Khmer Rouge, said he did not want to see Cambodian youth live in the past but wanted them to remember history and celebrate what they have now.

Many, who also heads the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia (UYFC), made the remarks on January 6 as he paid tribute to the fallen and innocent people who lost their lives under the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, at Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre about 17km south of Phnom Penh.

“Every year, we set January 6 aside to honour those who were lost during the Khmer Rouge regime, especially those who were murdered at the Choeung Ek killing field,” he said.

He explained that the most important aspect of the commemorations was to maintain a link between the new generations with the Kingdom’s history. The history was tragic and he especially wanted the young to remember the Cambodian heroes who lost their lives unjustly at the hands of the genocidal regime. Nobody should ever forget the many lives that were lost.

“We don’t ask the young to live in the past but to remember the bitter history. It can be said that no country has ever suffered from a genocide and killings like Cambodia did. We need to celebrate what we have now – the result of a hard-won peace,” he added.

Last year, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre welcomed over 120,000 visitors, more than half of them from overseas.

Many noted that foreigners always remember the tragedy of Cambodia and the many innocent lives that were lost.

The observance marked the eve of the 45th anniversary of Cambodia’s liberation from the Khmer Rouge on January 7, 1979. From that day, often referred to as Cambodia’s “second birthday”, the people earned the chance to fight for the peace they enjoy today, the minister said.

Addressing the 45th anniversary of Victory over Genocide Day, former Prime Minister Hun Sen, who remains president of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), asked that those who felt displeasure with the public holidays on January 7 and December 29 go to the Kingdom’s remaining minefields and risk their life evaluating the danger.

“If you are really a champion of opposing January 7 and peace, please go to the remaining minefields on your own as a test,” he said.

As he observed the day, Prime Minister Hun Manet took to social media to ask that the public take time to remember the bravery, resistance and sacrifices of the veterans who made so many sacrifices to liberate the country from a pit of death.

“January 7 is a day to remember the heroism, gratitude and resistance of the older generations. They have left us the precious inheritance of the Cambodian people’s lives, the foundation of the modern Kingdom. Cambodia is no longer known only for the killing fields, but as a peaceful country which is developing in all sectors, and is an attractive place to visit,” he said.

Yang Peou, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said on January 7 that the 45 years since the fall of the Khmer Rouge’s Democratic Kampuchea regime and the 25 years since the implementation of Hun Sen’s win-win policy have demonstrated that peace must be the foundation of the nation.

“Once the nation was at peace, we were able to do everything we needed to develop the nation, including improving democracy, human rights and the rule of law. All these are the basic principles of mankind. We need peace first, and then the other developmental processes follow, as we see now,” he added.

Government spokesman Pen Bona said the killing fields that unjustly claimed around 3 million lives from April 17, 1975 to January 6, 1979 marked a turning point of a painful history, which all future Cambodian generations need to remember in order to prevent history from repeating itself.

“Today is the day we express our gratitude to the Cambodian heroes who sacrificed their lives to give us a second birth, bringing peace and development. If not for January 7, we would not enjoy the many rights and freedoms we have today. Everything we have now started from that hard-won right to life,” he said.