Cambodia marks 30th anniversary of Khmer Rouge’s downfall

January 7th, 2009 - 5:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Phnom Penh, Jan 7 (DPA) Cambodia Wednesday marked 30 years since the downfall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime with a carefully choreographed stadium ceremony organised and dominated by the country’s powerful ruling party.A crowd of more than 40,000 at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium cheered throughout the ceremony, which marked the 30th anniversary of the day Vietnamese-led forces invaded Cambodia and ended the Khmer Rouge’s bloody four-year reign.

The president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), Chea Sim, said during his speech the invasion “saved the nation, fatherland and people from the harsh regime of genocide”.

“It is based on this victory that the Cambodian territory continues to exist and to last while the Cambodian people have survived and made progress up to the present as well for the future,” he said.

The speech was followed by traditional Cambodian dancing and a parade featuring elaborate floats, school children, farmers and military marching bands.

Chey Som Bok, a farmer who lived under the Khmer Rouge and marched in the parade, described the anniversary as a great day for Cambodia.

“I remember what it was like living under the Khmer Rouge regime,” he said. “They forced us all to work in the fields very hard and eat no food for days. That’s why it makes me so happy to be here today.”

King Norodom Sihamoni did not attend the event and none of the opposition political parties - some of which view Jan 7, 1979 as the beginning of Vietnam’s 10-year occupation - participated in the proceedings.

Human Rights Party president Kim Sokha said he was “not interested” in the ceremony because the CPP did not fully represent what occurred after the 1979 invasion.

“The CPP sees the invasion as a liberation, but I want the European Community to realize that 7 January 1979 was a Vietnamese invasion. What happened today was purely political,” he said.

The CPP’s insignia was prominent throughout the ceremony, appearing alongside the Cambodian flag on banners, on flags carried by marchers and even on balloons released by children at the ceremony’s conclusion.

Up to two million people died through execution, starvation and exhaustion during the Khmer Rouge’s rule between 1975 and 1979, as the ultra-communist group sought to transform Cambodian society into an agrarian socialist utopia.

Five former Khmer Rouge members are currently facing trial for crimes against humanity before a UN-backed tribunal, but Chea Sim made no mention of the tribunal during his speech.

International human rights groups have criticised the Cambodian government for delays in bringing the leaders to trial and early this week the US-based Human Rights Watch accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of deliberately obstructing the tribunal process and thwarting efforts to have more former Khmer Rouge leaders arrested.

“No serious observer believes there is any threat to Cambodia’s stability if additional cases are filed against alleged Khmer Rouge killers,” Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.

“On the 30th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge’s fall from power, the Cambodian government is playing games. This is a transparently political attempt to stop the court from doing its work,” Adams said.

A number of CPP leaders are former Khmer Rouge members who defected before joining the Vietnamese-led invasion.

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