7 January 1979: Liberation or Invasion?
It depends on with whom you talk to. The supporters of ruling party would say that this day as a Liberation Day which means “second birth giving day”. For some other people, it might not be so clear like this. There are pro and cons for celebrating the 7. January.
On 5.10.11, in Memot, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that “January 7 liberated everything, including ghost and evil spirits and even liberated the heads of those who are cursing January 7”. For Ke Sovannaroth, Secretary General of the Sam Rainsy Party: “We do not welcome this celebration”, instead October 23, 1991, the Paris Peace accord (PPP, 6 Jan 2011). Let the history judges on this point. The truth is somewhere in between.
Tomorrow, it will be the 32 Anniversary of the victory over the genocide regime of Pol Pot, which ruled Cambodia from 17 April 1975 to 6 January 1979. During the 3 years 8 months and 20 days, Pol Pot and his clique were able to transform Cambodia from a war-torn country in 1975 in to the Stone Age communism. Around 2 million people, mainly educated and adult people, lost their lives due to mass killings, hunger, overwork, diseases etc.
When the victory of 7 January 1979 happened, I, 16 years old, was living in Muk Chhneang village, Spean Sreng commune, Phnom Srok district, (former) Battambang province; now it is changed to Banteay Meanchey province. The village is about 450 km from Phnom Penh. Our village is at the border to Siem Reap province, just divided by Spean Sreng River. In our village, nobody did know in advance what happened on that day in Phnom Penh since we were not allowed to own anything, except one spoon and a simple plate. On 10 January, we still had village meeting organized by the cadres of the Khmer Rouge (KR). Suddenly, we heard periodically noises of artillery’s’ shells, far away from us. We observed that the Khmer Rouge’s cadres were nervous and later they disappeared from the scene, letting us sitting there without knowing what to do. Some people whispered that there might be some change in Phnom Penh. The news of change in Phnom Penh spreads very fast. Since there were no chief of the village and KR soldiers, people believed that the regime is somehow overthrow. They started to harvest rice from the paddy field to cook rice on their own, cooked and ate freely, for the first time. We had a full stomage, since it was never happend during this regime. It was a sense of great release for all. One day, the KR carders returned and threatened to punish all of us. But, it did not last long, until they escaped again, to the jungle.
Some days later, I and my relatives took the adventure trip and walked with minor belongings in the direction to Phnom Penh. We passed by the KR soldiers, the frontline, the fighting zones and finally we encountered Vietnamese troops. It was a big surprise for us that our “lives saviors” are our “enemies” as the Pol Potist would call them. There has been no friendly relationship between Cambodian and Vietnamese people due to the bitter history of conquering and annexing parts of Cambodia to Vietnam in the past. There are still mistrust between people. But, for us it was hard enough during the Pol Pot’s regime. May be it is nothing worse than that. It is a long history until the day we reached Phnom Penh, in March 1980. I will write more in my next articles in this blog.
What does this day means to me? In short: To me, the mighty Vietnamese troops, together with their weaker and smaller Cambodian counterparts, were sent to invade, liberate and save millions of lives of Cambodian people, including myself and all my family members. If they would not come to help us, we could not imagine what kind of experiments Pol Pot and his clique would do with us? I am not sure if I would survive long enough. I was a skeleton, a death body with a living and still functioning heart. I am very much grateful to this historical date and to all Cambodian and Vietnamese soldiers who lost their life during the war to save ours. We should not forget this fact.
The point is that some of our lives saviors and leaders of the ruling party turned themselves from poor communists or/and idealists to capitalists or/and multi-millionaire while after 32 years, 26% of ordinary Cambodians are still struggling to survive from day-to-day. In 1979, we were all equally poor. The just society they fought for is still far away. The gap between rich and poor are not smaller now. Let’s us work together for a better Cambodia for all Cambodians.