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Anniversary Marks Division Among Cambodians

January 7 has become a contentious date in Cambodia. On the one hand, it marks the beginning of the end of the Khmer Rouge, who were ousted on the date in 1979 by Vietnamese forces and Cambodian defectors of the regime.

The ruling party marks the day as the beginning of victory over the regime and of peace that was formalized in accords in 1991. Opposition members and others say the day should be remembered as the beginning of a decade-long Vietnamese occupation, and not of liberation.

Cambodian People’s Party officials gathered at their headquarters Thursday morning to mark what they term “Victory Over Genocide Day.”

Chea Sim, who is the president of the CPP and of the Senate, told those assembled that the 31st anniversary marked a day that “saved our nation and people from the genocide disaster” of the Khmer Rouge.

Since the defeat of the Khmer Rogue, “our nation has ceased a time in history that is full of internal conflicts, wars, tragedy and the state of being underrated,” he said. “We have got out of this darkness, which actually gave us valuable lessons and experiences.”

The ruling party supports the Khmer Rouge tribunal, he said, “in trying crimes committed by senior leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea regime.” However, he said the party opposed “attempts for using [the court] for ill intention with impact on peace, national reconciliation and development, which have been our hard-won achievements.”

Thach Sitha, a top official of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said Jan. 7 simply “marks the invasion of Vietnamese troops.”

Historically, he said, the Khmer Rogue would not have succeeded without the Vietnamese communists, which initially supported the dissidents that would form the regime.

“If the Vietnamese communist party did not create the Cambodian communist party, there would not have been mass killing in Cambodia,” he said. “They played a double role. That means they killed and they saved after.”

The day that brought real development to Cambodia, he said, was Oct. 23, 1991, the date of the Paris Peace Accords.

Kek Galabru, president of the rights group Licadho, said Jan. 7, 1979, the liberation of Cambodia, was “a fact,” and the peace accords that came much later also brought development. “Leave it to the Cambodian people to judge the events,” she said.