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Cambodians Celebrate 26th Anniversary of Liberation from Khmer Rouge

Thousands of members of the Cambodia's ruling party congregated in Phnom Penh Friday, commemorating the 26th anniversary of the end of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. But not all Cambodians view the Vietnamese invasion that rousted the Khmer Rouge as a liberation.

January 7 has long been a contentious date for Cambodians. For survivors of the Khmer Rouge "killing fields," the ouster of the regime at the hands of Vietnamese forces on this day in 1979 was a welcome liberation. Still others are pained by the day, which they feel celebrates the invasion by an oppressive foreign occupier.

While the government staged a grand "Victory Day" celebration in the middle of the capital Friday, a small group of ultra-nationalists who don't see the day as a victory managed to stage a short protest nearby, despite a ban on counter-demonstrations.

A dozen activists thrust their fists into the air and shouted anti-Vietnamese rhetoric just blocks away from the government celebration. In Sinath, vice secretary-general of the Khmer Front Party, lead the shouting.

In Sinath says the 7th of January marks the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, and Cambodians should not regard it as the day their lives were liberated.

In Sinath wore a Cambodian flag around his head and called the government a dictatorial regime that condoned the killing of Khmer nationals by Vietnamese forces.

The protest was short-lived. Members of a 100-strong police force swarmed the group, beating activists with their fists, elbows and electric batons. Three demonstrators were dragged away to police headquarters.

At the government-sanctioned gathering, 10,000 members of the Cambodian People's party released pigeons and balloons in front of the party headquarters to commemorate the Vietnamese-led liberation.

The communist Khmer Rouge conquered Cambodia in April 1975, and ruled until the Vietnamese ousted them almost four years later. During that time, at least 1.5 million Cambodians were shot, beaten to death, or died of overwork or starvation.

CPP President Chea Sim presided over Friday's ceremony. He called on the United Nations to secure the funding needed for a tribunal to try the surviving members of the Khmer Rouge leadership.

Prime Minister Hun Sen was installed by the Vietnamese occupation government in 1979, but he was in Indonesia on Friday, attending an emergency meeting on tsunami relief efforts.