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Officials Argue Two Sides of Divisive Day

A senior Cambodian People’s Party official defended the government’s celebrating of the contentious Jan. 7 holiday on Thursday, claiming it was a day of victory and arguing against criticism that the day merely marks the beginning of an occupation.

Vietnamese forces ousted the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh on Jan. 7, 1979, beginning a decade-long occupation that saw years of civil war between government forces and the guerrillas.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yiep said the day was one the ruling party was thankful for, because it augured peace and led to victories in future general elections for the party.

The day marked one of survival for Cambodia, he said by phone Thursday, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

However, a second guest on the show, Thach Sitha, a senior member of the Sam Rainsy Party, who joined in the Phnom Penh studio, said the day marked only a change from one communist regime to another.

Were the Vietnamese intentions benevolent, the country would have done more before 1979, he said. The Vietnamese retained an embassy until 1977, he said, when Phnom Penh was “a ghost city,” and waited until the Cambodians were nearly “extinguished,” before bringing in troops two years later.

“So Cambodia suffered by others’ politics,” he said. “They killed us to become ghosts, and then they rose up, wanting us to thank them. So Cambodia, please, understand this history.