Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday lashed out at opposition figures who criticised the country’s celebration of January 7 as a day of liberation from the Khmer Rouge, again emphasising the importance of the day in Cambodian history.
Speaking at a high school inauguration in Kampong Cham’s Memot district two days ahead of the national holiday, the premier claimed all criticisms of the event were motivated by politics.
“I would like to say that January 7 liberated everything, including ghosts and evil spirits and even liberated the heads of those who are cursing January 7,” Hun Sen said.
The holiday, commemorating the anniversary of the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese army in 1979, prompts an annual debate in Cambodia about the extent of Vietnamese influence that was ushered in by the event.
After Pol Pot’s overthrow, Vietnamese troops remained in Cambodia, battling resistance factions including remnants of the Khmer Rouge, until their withdrawal in September 1989.
But Hun Sen said that if there was no January 7, there would be no Khmer Rouge tribunal and the country would not have made any progress.
“Those who consider January 7 as their enemy, would they dare say if there was a genocidal regime of Pol Pot or not?” Hun Sen said.
Ke Sovannroth, secretary general of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said that the SRP did not consider the day as one of liberation, seeing it rather as the birthday of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party – the successor of the communist People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea that took power in 1979.
She said the country should instead mark the anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords as the day of the country’s liberation.
“We do not welcome this celebration,” Ke Sovannroth said.
“We consider only the October 23, 1991 peace agreement as the day that brought an end to the country’s disputes and brought development.”
Hun Sen said, however, that without the toppling of the Khmer Rouge, the Paris Peace Accords would never have been signed.
“I would like to put the question at this point: If Pol Pot had continued to have power until 1991, would Pol Pot [have] agreed to sign it?” he said.