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On Contentious Holiday, Ruling Party Admonishes Opposition

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, front right, applauses together with the National Assembly President Heng Samrin, front left, during an event by the ruling Cambodian People's Party marking the 36th anniversary of the 1979 downfall of the Khmer Rouge reg

A senior ruling party leader has admonished the opposition Wednesday, warning them to avoid critical public comments in order to foster an atmosphere of cooperation.

At a public event to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 7, 1979, ouster of the Khmer Rouge from power, Heng Samrin, president of the Cambodian People’s Party, said politicians should be “careful” in making public statements critical of the ruling party.

The holiday is particularly contentious, because it also marks the beginning of a decade-long occupation by Vietnamese forces. It rankles many Cambodians, particularly those critical of the ruling party’s ties to the Vietnamese government.

Mu Sochua, a senior lawmaker for the Cambodia National Rescue Party, said such warnings are counter to the constitutional right to free speech.

“We the CNRP are not responsible to any individual or group, but to the nation,” she said. “Therefore, we do not have to follow instructions, or orders. We absolutely cannot.”

Ny Chakrya’s called Heng Samrin’s admonishment “old fashioned.” The Rescue Party will suffer political decline if it follows such warnings, he added.

Disputes over the Jan. 7 holiday are a perennial event, in which the CPP touts the ouster of the Khmer Rouge, overlooking the Vietnamese occupation and its effects, and in which critics deride the occupation, glossing over the importance of Vietnam to the liberation of Cambodians from the brutal regime.

On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said detractors of the holiday were no better than the “genocidal” Khmer Rouge.

Still, many critics contend that the holiday has become tainted and is not worth celebrating.

Ou Virak, chairman of the board at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told “Hello VOA” on Monday that the holiday is more a reminder of the “corruption, greed and arrogance” that leaders have succumbed to since the Khmer Rouge fell.

“Not only do young people not remember the day, the older generation has already lost the spirit of 7 January themselves,” he said. The day has become propagandized by the CPP, he said.

Pen Sovann, a member of the Rescue Party who helped Cambodia rebuild after the ouster of the Khmer Rouge, said the day, for some at least, is a reminder of communist times—Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese.

He criticized government leaders for arrests, killings and illegal detention that still plague Cambodia.

“People regret this,” he said. “People don’t like communism and dictatorship. But now [the CPP] have reinstated it like during the Khmer Rouge regime. They have followed the Khmer Rouge.”