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Opposition Marks Anniversary of 1997 Coup

An unidentified injured soldier (uncertain who he belongs to) is helped in a make-shift stretcher by his comrades after a tank he was riding was hit by a rocket Sunday, July 6, 1997, a fighting between Hun Sen and Prince Ranarridh's armie near Phnom Penh's university on the outskirts of the capital. Hun Sen claimed the current fighting a coup attempt by Prince Ranarridh as thousands of inhabitants try to escape from the capitol. (AP Photo/Masaru Goto)

It has been 18 years since the Cambodian People’s Party seized control of the country in a violent coup. But opposition and royal officials said Sunday the country should put the past behind it and unite to solve its modern challenges.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party held a ceremony at its headquarters in Phnom Penh on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the 1997 coup, in which the CPP defeated the royalist Funcinpec, dismantling a power-sharing agreement, installing Hun Sen as the sole prime minister, and leaving many senior royal officials dead.

Lu Lay Sreng, a former Funcinpec deputy prime minister, told reporters Cambodia should now focus on its present problems and solve its disputes with other countries, such as those along the border with Vietnam. The CPP was not to “blame” for the 1997 coup, he said. “Two tigers can’t live on one mountain.”

But he said he joined the Rescue Party ceremony “to pay respect to the souls [of dead soldiers].” “Nobody dares to hold this ceremony anymore because they are afraid of Hun Sen,” he said.

More than 200 people were killed in the 1997 coup, many of whom were commanders or soldiers loyal to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the then co-prime minister, and Funcinpec. They were either killed in fighting in Phnom Penh, or extrajudicially executed in its aftermath.

CPP officials have refused to call the fighting a coup, claiming instead that the royalists were arming themselves for a military takeover and were defeated in a preemptive strike.

At the anniversary ceremony, Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy called on Cambodia’s politicians to remember the coup and to see it as a lesson not to take revenge on one another. “Don’t let Khmers have disputes with Khmers,” he said. Don’t split up. Don’t kill our own Khmers.”