Former socialist President Heng Samrin presided over a ceremony on Wednesday to mark the 37th anniversary of the Salvation Front, formed near the Vietnamese border in Kratie province, that would replace the overthrown Pol Pot regime in January 1979.
Mr. Samrin, the leader of the Vietnam-backed front who later became president of the socialist People’s Republic of Kampuchea regime (PRK) it created, said Cambodia’s situation today was thanks to the decision of the Khmer Rouge dissidents to apostatize almost four decades ago.
“The achievements and happiness we have today came from December 2 and January 7, which have lightened our path for the past 37 years,” Mr. Samrin said at the National Institute of Education.
“We would like to announce that the December 2 Front not only saved us all from disaster but the December 2 Front also restored, built and developed society to give Cambodia a new face.”
The recognition of December 2, 1978, and January 7, 1979, as national days of observation is a vexed issue, with the political opposition regarding both dates as marking the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and the start of more than a decade of foreign colonization.
Yet CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said December 2 had to be respected as a day that got rid of the violent Khmer Rouge regime, replacing it with a more tolerant socialist government headed by Mr. Samrin.
“December 2 means the day of building mass solidarity in order to form a force to fight the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot to liberate the country and the people under the genocidal regime,” Mr. Eysan said. “January 7 was December 2’s victory day over the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot regime.”
In deliberate contrast to the Khmer Rouge’s style of revolutionary socialism, Article 1 of the PRK’s Constitution stated that Cambodia was “gradually advancing toward socialism” while a later article guaranteed the right to “private ownership” of basic goods.
Today, even if the opposition CNRP still protests the marking of December 2 and January 7, other erstwhile opponents of the PRK regime have come around to support the day.
Former Funcinpec Co-Minister of Defense Nhiek Bun Chhay, a senior general of the Chinese- and U.S.-backed resistance to the PRK, said he now acknowledges the value of the date.
“December 2 is the day of the creation of solidarity to topple the Khmer Rouge,” Mr. Bun Chhay said. “If there was no December 2, there’s no today.”
The Salvation Front, now known as the Solidarity Front for Development of the Cambodian Motherland, continues to keep on office building on prime real estate near Phnom Penh’s Chakotmuk Conference Hall, though its aims in modern Cambodia are less clear.
A receptionist on the second floor of the building on Wednesday said the regime lived on as a charitable wing of the CPP.
“The Solidarity Front is like a youth movement working for the party,” said the elderly man, who declined to give his name. “This is an organization of the CPP and serves the CPP party, and we have branches in every province.”
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