‘January 7’ Is Remembered by All Cambodians

Tin Sokhavuth / Khmer Times No Comments Share:

“January 7” is seen by the CPP – the political party in power – as the second birthday for all Cambodians who survived the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal regime. But Sam Rainsy, who grew up in France, does not acknowledge “January 7” as a glorious day. He considers it part of a political spectacle conceived by the Vietnamese communist forces.  

Mr. Rainsy’s argument is that the communist Vietnamese helped the Khmer Rouge win the war against the pro-American government led by Lon Nol on April 17, 1975. After that, he believes the Communist Vietnamese forces used their spies to hijack the policies of the Khmer Rouge government in order to seed hatred among Cambodians who later killed each other for no reason. Later, on January 7, 1979, Communist Vietnamese forces came to occupy Cambodia under the pretext of saving Cambodian people from the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge regime.

But Mr. Rainsy has not offered any verification of his claims. Maybe he has forgotten that there is an institution called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in charge of prosecuting the perpetrators of crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime. If Mr. Rainsy really cares about the death of innocent Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge regime, he should ask the ECCC to investigate his claims about Vietnam’s involvement with the Khmer Rouge once they began to commit atrocities. 

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It is obvious that criticism is an important facet of Mr. Rainsy’s character, because he grew up in France, where criticism is part of the national mindset. He used to criticize the Cambodian judiciary system for not being independent. But with the ECCC, it could be different. Has he made any effort to talk to the ECCC about his concerns?

It is believed that Prime Minister Hun Sen was a military officer in the Khmer Rouge armed forces, considered one of the Khmer Rouge leaders due to his collaboration with them before fleeing to Vietnam.
But if we’re talking about collaboration with the Khmer Rouge, it was not only Prime Minister Hun Sen, but also the UN, the US and many European countries as well. 

The fact is when Vietnamese troops occupied Cambodia in the 80s, and the Khmer Rouge fled to Thailand, the UN saw the Khmer Rouge as the only internationally recognized government representing Cambodia, while the US and European countries helped the Khmer Rouge form a coalition comprising of the royalists (Funcinpec), the republicans (KPNLF) and the Khmer Rouge.

After the creation of this coalition, the US and European countries kept providing money and sending weapons to help this coalition fight against the Vietnamese troops in Cambodia. The result was devastating: With the guerilla warfare tactics used by the Khmer Rouge fighters, almost all bridges, roads, schools, hospitals and buildings were destroyed or burned to the ground all over the country, and many innocent lives were lost.

The question of whether the US and certain European countries knew that the Khmer Rouge had killed about two million innocent Cambodians has been raised. Of course they knew very well about the killing fields, but they remained silent because it was useful for them for the Khmer Rouge forces to fight against Vietnamese troops during the Cold War.

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This fact is shocking to the Cambodian people who survived the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities. We ask each other and ourselves why the world did that to us. Instead of arresting the killers, the world helped the killers to continue killing us for many years to come. At that time, the world did not talk about setting up a special court like the ECCC to put the killers on trial. They said nothing. Knowing this, it is not hard to see why some Cambodian people are not interested in the ECCC.

On the other hand, opposition parties like to link everything to the Vietnamese issue, because it is a very sensitive problem with roots in past wars and conquests between Cambodia and Vietnam. The fear of loss of land and the fear of another Vietnamese invasion are a big concern for Cambodian people. As a result, when politicians link anything to the Vietnamese, they get widespread support from Cambodians.

Nevertheless, as stated by the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, “The victory over the Khmer Rouge is a victory shared by all Cambodians.”

It can be seen as the second birthday for all Cambodian people without political distinction. Celebrating “January 7” does not mean you support the CPP. It is simply a celebration of a day that, for many people, signifies surviving the killing fields and the Khmer Rouge. It is possible that some veterans, who fought alongside Prime Minister Hun Sen to liberate the country from the Khmer Rouge, are now supporting the opposition party.

In the same way, all the achievements in development, such as roads, bridges, schools and hospitals, are not tied to the ruling party alone. These national projects represent contributions from a number of stakeholders, and they are for all Cambodians. The Japanese government did not build the Neak Loeung Bridge for the CPP alone. They built it for Cambodian people from all walks of life, whether they are CPP supporters or opposition party supporters.

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After nearly two decades of civil war, we, the Cambodian people, need to be united in developing our country and installing a solid, liberal, pluralist democracy. Attempts to promote problems with Vietnam could be perceived as trying to invoke war with a neighboring country. On the contrary, we are better off being friends with Vietnam and using peaceful negotiation to solve any problems with them.

If we look at other countries around the world, they also have past wars and conquests with their neighboring countries. For example, the war between France and England lasted for almost 100 years: The French call it “la guerre de cent ans.” But now, the French and British people are working together to build a very strong European community. 

It is very doubtful that using unfounded claims about “January 7” in order to win upcoming elections will work. If political parties really want to win these elections, they should ensure rural Cambodians have enough food, clothing and money to send their children to school and university so that the next generation will have a better life.

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