Cambodia: Liberation Day or Invasion Day?

On January 7, 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia was ousted from power. The Communist regime was accused of ordering the mass slaughter of more than 1 million Cambodians. Last week the Cambodian government marked the 30th year of the downfall of the Khmer Rouge. But opinion is divided whether this day should be celebrated as Liberation Day or Invasion Day since Vietnam, which helped in removing the Khmer Rouge, occupied Cambodia until 1988.

Prime Minister Hun Sen insists January 7, 1979 was a victory over genocide. He criticizes those who refuse to honor the occasion:

“This is the truth of history that even those unwise groups and extremist groups must acknowledge this truth. If you dare not acknowledge the truth, you are not a human being, you are a real animal. This is the truth. If we didn’t have the 7th January 1979, we will not have today.”

But Sophan Seng explains why not all Cambodians are joining the government in the celebration:

“To celebrate this day is not significantly representing Cambodians as the whole nation. It is only celebrated by the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which has been in power since the day of January 7, 1979.

“It has not been generally accepted by the Cambodian people. Whatever theme each celebration expects to achieve, those themes still belong to the CPP, and it is truly reminding Cambodian people of the brutality, the foreign invasion and the nonstop division among Cambodian nationals.”

Modern Progressive Khmer mentions Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia after January 7, 1979:

“January 7th did in fact stop the killing, but Cambodia was not free. Vietnam occupied Cambodia; therefore, by definition Cambodia was not liberated. This is why the word “liberation” has a major semantic problem. One cannot call oneself a liberated being if one is not free to determine one’s destiny. Liberation could not be further from the truth. The world knows that Cambodia was under Vietnam’s control from the day it invaded Cambodia until it was pressured to withdraw.”

The opposition believes the true day of liberation came on Oct. 23, 1991 when the Paris Peace Accords were signed. Opposition lawmaker Sam Rainsy raises another point:

“Celebrating January 7 without having in mind a broader historical perspective, is playing into the hands of the current Phnom Penh regime whose only raison d'être was to “free” the Cambodian people from the Khmer Rouge with communist Vietnam's decisive but not unselfish help.”

The Son of the Empire provides an initial roundup of views about the issue. Khmerization uploads pictures of the government-led celebration of the event last week.


  • khmerization

    It is both an invasion and a liberation day, because by sending the troops in to a sovereign country, Vietnam has violated the territorial integrity of that country. But at the same time, by invading Cambodia, the Vietnamese invasion had saved thousands and probably millions of life.

  • Savath POU

    Thirty Sixth Anniversary Of January 7th

    by Savath Pou
    Senator Expelled
    January 6th, 2015

    Regardless of where they live, Khmer people are still divided by the historic date of January 7, 1979. The majority of people who were born in the middle of World War II like me and have lived through the last decade of French Protectorate, the Royal Crusade for Independence led by then young and vigorous King Norodom Sihanouk, the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era that stretched from the middle of 1955 to the day of US-backed Lon Nol/Sisowath Sirik Matak coup d’état on March 18, 1970, the ensuing civil war between the Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic and the communist Khmer Rouge which ended by the total victory of the latter on April 17, 1975, and through the darkest period in Khmer history of three years, eight months and twenty days under the blood thirsty Pol Pot regime, still remember January 7, 1979 as either the day of their liberation or their second birthday.

    In the last few days, some young Khmer-Americans have posted reckless comments on their Facebook pages saying that they owe nothing to January 7th because they were born well after that historic date. Those youngsters have obviously forgotten completely the suffering as well as the fragmentation older generations than theirs had gone through.

    Feeling so disturbed by their comments, I then posted my following reply.

    Let me put this way. The United States of America owes several trillions of US dollars as debt to the People’s Republic of China. As US citizens, how are you feeling, brothers? Feeling nothing? Free of debt? Angry and compelled to take Presidents Barak Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. Bush so on and so forth to all the courts in the land or even to the ICJ for their reckless spending habits? Or are you quietly forcing yourselves to work harder so you can cope with all the tax increases imposed by consecutive US Administrations, just to be able to shoulder their huge debt burden? Come on brothers, you are living in the real world, definitely not in a fantasy land where only angels live.

    Coming back to the January 7th, the entire Khmer nation was salvaged by that very historic event which might appear unfortunate for you, but that was the fact, and you cannot deny it simply because you were not born yet.

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