Revelers Celebrate 61st Anniversary of Independence

Several thousand revelers turned out to Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument on Sunday to mark the 61st anniversary of the day King Norodom Sihanouk secured Cambodia’s independence from France.

Starting in the early morning, government officials, military officers, police, teachers and students gathered around the monument to await the arrival of King Norodom Sihamoni, who succeeded King Sihanouk in 2004.

Scouts carry balloons as they walk around Independence Monument in Phnom Penh on Sunday during a celebration marking the 61st anniversary of Cambodia's independence from France. (Pring Samrang/Reuters)
Scouts carry balloons as they walk around Independence Monument in Phnom Penh on Sunday during a celebration marking the 61st anniversary of Cambodia’s independence from France. (Pring Samrang/Reuters)

Dressed in their uniforms and standing in rows with flowers, the revelers raised banners that bore short phrases marking the anniversary of the return of national sovereignty to Cambodia.

“We always remember the great crusade for independence of Cambodia by His Majesty the King, Norodom Sihanouk, who is the father of independence, territorial integrity, and national unity,” one of the banners read.

Arriving at the monument, King Sihamoni headed toward the crowd of awaiting government officials, greeting them before heading inside the Independence Monument to light a torch that is set to burn until today.

After another brief tour of the revelers, and without heading to the front of the Royal Palace to make a speech as he did last year, King Sihamoni then departed about an hour after the ceremony began.

“The tradition of the late king father and His Majesty Norodom Sihamoni is that they give a speech only for the main ceremonies like the 50th anniversary, but not for the normal ceremony,” said Prince Sisowath Thomico, an adopted brother of King Sihamoni, after the event.

On Saturday, Defense Minister Tea Banh led celebrations across the city at the Defense Ministry for the 61st anniversary of the creation of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) on the day of independence.

“Today is the auspicious day that RCAF holds to welcome the 61st anniversary of RCAF…to show remembrance and to congratulate and give gratitude to our Khmer people as a united force under former King Sihanouk in demanding independence from the French colonists,” he said.

General Banh also expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Hun Sen for leading the Cambodian military since his rise to power.

As prime minister during in the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Hun Sen oversaw the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Cambodian People’s Armed Forces, which fought against a coalition of resistance forces, including then-Prince Sihanouk’s Funcinpec guerrillas.

In 1993, Mr. Hun Sen as second prime minister oversaw the re-establishment of the RCAF when those resistance forces returned from the Thai border to Phnom Penh.

“Under the charismatic and rightful leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen of the Royal Kingdom of Cambodia, and his outstanding guidance of the Cambodian people…[we celebrate] in a spirit of gratitude to the RCAF forces who have fought and sacrificed to protect the nation and the motherland across all generations,” Gen. Banh said.

He also thanked the RCAF forces for defending Mr. Hun Sen’s government during the recent political turmoil.

“Especially, in the recent situation there were political crises and chaos in society that were caused by illegal demonstrations and an intention to topple the legitimate government that was formed by the will of the people through election,” Gen. Banh told the gathering.

“After the announcement of the election result…our RCAF forces acted to fulfill their obligations to maintain national security,” he said.

“[We] strongly opposed all tricks that plunge the nation into mayhem, cause insecurity in society, or the loss of stability, order and national peace—the ‘life-or-death’ factors of the nation.”

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