The Jan. 7 holiday marking the 1979 ouster of the Khmer Rouge is most often celebrated by supporters of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. On Monday Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at the opposition, saying their lack of support for the day meant they sympathize with the Khmer Rouge.
“If anyone is against Jan. 7, he or she is automatically in alliance with the Khmer Rouge and the genocide regime,” he said in a public speech.
But many Cambodians view the holiday with some ambivalence, or outright anger, as it not only marked the end of the Khmer Rouge era, but it began a decade-long occupation by the Vietnamese primarily responsible for toppling the regime.
Supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party often prefer to celebrate Oct. 23, which marks the anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, bringing in Cambodia’s period of democracy.
Still, Hun Sen criticized what he called the UN’s failure to end the Khmer Rouge once they had been ousted. “If there were no Jan. 7, there would not be our lives or anything, including the Paris Peace agreement,” he said.
Opposition lawmaker Yem Ponhearith said the Oct. 23 holiday deserves more attention, particularly since some of the current members of government were originally Khmer Rouge cadre. The UN organized general elections, which brought foreign assistance and many billions of dollars to develop the country, he said. “But before Oct. 23, there were not those things.”