A senior Cambodian ruling party leader has sharply criticized the opposition, warning them to avoid critical public comments on the contentious anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Disputes over the January 7 holiday are an annual event in which the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) touts the 1979 ouster of the Khmer Rouge, overlooking what followed, which critics deride as Vietnamese occupation.
At a public event Wednesday to mark the 36th anniversary, CPP President Heng Samrin said politicians should be “careful” not to harm last year's deal in which the opposition ended its boycott of parliament following disputed election results.
“We hope that politicians would be careful in making public statements which would be beneficial for the implementation of the agreement [between the two parties] and avoid making attacking comments and creating problems which bear no benefit in any situation," said Samrin.
Mu Sochua, a senior lawmaker for the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), responded by saying such warnings are counter to the constitutional right to free speech.
“We the CNRP are not responsible to any individual or group, but to the nation,” she said. “Therefore, we do not have to follow instructions, or orders. We absolutely cannot.”
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Hun Sen said detractors of the holiday were no better than the “genocidal” Khmer Rouge.
But opposition member Pen Sovann, a former founder of the ruling party, said the day - for some at least - is a reminder of communist times, Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese.
He criticized government leaders for arrests, killings and illegal detentions that still plague Cambodia.
“People regret this,” he said. “People don’t like communism and dictatorship. But now [the CPP] have reinstated it like during the Khmer Rouge regime. They have followed the Khmer Rouge.”
Ou Virak, chairman of the board at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told “Hello VOA” on Monday that the holiday is more a reminder of the “corruption, greed and arrogance” that leaders have succumbed to since the Khmer Rouge fell.
“Not only do young people not remember the day, the older generation has already lost the spirit of 7 January themselves,” he said, adding "the day has become propagandized by the CPP."
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.