PHNOM PENH - Cambodia’s ruling party and supporters gathered on Monday to mark the anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge, which was toppled by Vietnamese-backed forces on Jan. 7, 1975, nearly four years after coming to power.
The anniversary is a divisive day in Cambodia, with some celebrating the ouster of the brutal regime and others marking the beginning of a 10-year Vietnamese occupation. For the ruling party, it is an anniversary to be celebrated.
Heng Samrin, the head of the Senate and the honorary president of the Cambodian People’s Party, delivered an address to thousands of participants at CPP headquarters in Phnom Penh on Monday, censuring organizations critical of the country’s development efforts.
“Democracy and human rights were not born and developed because of spoken words or reports from some center,” he said, in an apparent criticism of the country’s non-governmental organizations. These came only “after the collapse of the Khmer Rouge,” he said. “Therefore, politicians and everyone in between should consider the truth.”
The annual Jan. 7 address is typically given by Chea Sim, president of the CPP, but on Monday he appeared weak and frail, requiring the help of his bodyguards to walk in his first public appearance since widespread reports of his failing health.
Heng Samrin’s comments come as Cambodia faces increasing criticism over human rights abuses and a shrinking space for freedom of assembly and speech, with activists and government critics in jail and concern that the upcoming national elections will not be free and fair.
“Democracy and human rights were born from the Paris Accords, on 23 October 1991,” said Yem Ponharith, an opposition lawmaker, referring to the UN-led peace accords that ended decades of civil conflict in Cambodian and installed a constitution. “Before that day, how were people living? Were there foreign troops? How were Vietnamese experts living in the country?”