Cambodia is set to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the Commemoration Day of the Historical Journey Leading to the Overthrow of Pol Pot’s Genocide Regime tomorrow near the Vietnam border in Tboung Khmum province’s Koh Thmar village.
June 20 is a reminder of the role Prime Minister Hun Sen and his four allies, including Nuch Thorn and Va Por Ean, played in requesting assistance from the Vietnamese government in 1977 to oust Pol Pot’s regime.
With the support of Vietnamese troops, Phnom Penh was liberated on January 7, 1979 and the Khmer Rouge leadership fled west along the Thai border and continued to struggle against Heng Samrin’s forces and Vietnamese troops.
Defence Minister General Tea Banh is expected to gather with senior Defence Ministry officials and thousands of citizens.
General Nem Sowath, director-general of the Defence Ministry’s general department of policy and foreign affairs, said June 20 is an “important day” for Cambodians.
“The Defence Ministry will hold the 42nd anniversary of the historical journey that led to the overthrow of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in order to remind and inform the next generation to remember this historic event,” Gen Sowath said.
He said that Mr Hun Sen and his allies “used their life as capital” for peace, citizens and the nation.
According to a pamphlet published by the Defence Ministry in 2017, there is a reason why Koh Thmar village is considered historically important.
“The night of June 20, 1977, in Koh Thmar, is a key point in Cambodia’s history,” the pamphlet said. “It is the day comrade Hun Sen began his journey that led to the overthrow of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime.”
Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Khmer Rouge tribunal, yesterday said the day represents resistance to overthrow the Khmer Rouge.
“It is a date to remember the resistance force [which fought] against the crimes committed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge regime,” Mr Pheaktra said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday said that June 20 is the day that led to the founding of Mr Samrin’s Solidarity Front for Development of Cambodian Motherland on December 2 in Kratie province’s Snuol district.
“It is a historic event that we cannot forget. It is the day that our leaders fled our country to find a way to liberate our nation from evil hands,” Mr Eysan said. “It is also a special day that leads to December 2, 1978 and January 7, 1979 [Victory Day over the Khmer Rouge].”
He said that no one should forget about the struggle against the Khmer Rouge.
“No one can exaggerate about the day [June 20] because it is reflective of real history,” Mr Eysan said. “It is the day when our leaders moved to the east to find assistance.”
“When the opposition leader [Sam Rainsy] was enjoying his drinking parties in Paris, [Cambodian leaders] were just returning with the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991,” he added.
During a speech for the inauguration of a $12 million Win-Win Monument in the Chroy Changva district in Phnom Penh last year, Mr Hun Sen reminisced on how he brought former Khmer Rouge leaders to the negotiation table in 1998 to discuss the prospect of peace.
He said he was able to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to the negotiating table because he ensured them they would leave with their lives, assets and careers.
“Trust and guarantee of those three things made Cambodia able to end wars and have peace over the last 20 years,” Mr Hun Sen said.
The 54-metre tall monument, which began construction in 2016, now serves as a reminder of his achievements in securing peace decades ago in Cambodia.
Men Roeung, a 65-year-old former Khmer Rouge soldier from Oddar Meanchey province’s Anglong Veng district, said he suffered during the civil war.
“Now we have peace and everyone enjoys peace and development,” Mr Roeung said. “As a soldier, I wanted the war to end and I did not want to see the civil war in the country. We suffered.”
He noted that since the death of Pol Pot, former Khmer Rouge soldiers have been integrated into government forces.
Mr Roeung said since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, his area has changed from an area filled with insecurity to an area that is developing.
“We are following the principle of the government and we enjoy Prime Minister Hun Sen’s leadership,” he said. “We were tired of the war – I did not want to sleep in a hammock, I did not want to live in hiding in forests any more.”
“The government changed our lives. Before, we had nothing, now we have houses, farmlands, TVs and vehicles,” he said.
During a June 20 commemoration speech in 2017, Mr Hun Sen explained why he chose Vietnam to help Cambodia.
“I couldn’t pick Thailand or Laos because both countries were far from the location that I was living in, and I was not sure if those countries could help Cambodia,” he said.
Chhang Youk, a historian and the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, yesterday said June 20 “highlights significant sites with a meaningful journey through history”.
“I hope they will mark the journey – perhaps by planting trees to heal the past – so they will be remembered,” Mr Youk. “To remember this is not only a duty, but also a form of justice.”