Written by Brendan Brady and Kouth Sophak Chakrya
Friday, 06 March 2009
Former border resistance leaders stand by antagonism towards Vietnamese.
A WHO'S who of anti-Vietnamese leaders of the 1980s gathered at a stupa in Kandal province Thursday to commemorate resistance fighters who had died as part of the movement's effort to expel the foreign power.
The Khmer National Liberation Front (KPNLF) was one of the main resistance groups to emerge along the Thai border following the fall of the Khmer Rouge by Vietnamese forces and their subsequent administrative takeover of Cambodia.
Former KPNLF army and political leaders inaugurated a monument with inscriptions of the names of resistance fighters who died between 1979 and 1991 at a ceremony in Kien Svay district.
Chuor Kim Meng, who had been a lieutenant general for the movement's military wing, said the resistance helped push the Vietnamese out and forced the local officials it had installed to accept multiparty democracy.
"If not for these fighters, Vietnam may have continued to occupy Cambodia," he said.
Dien Del, former chief of staff of the group's army, said the event "preserve the memory of those who died expelling the Vietnamese occupiers".
Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the guest of honour, praised the resistance. "I have never forgotten its fighters who died," he said. He, too, described the Vietnamese troops in Cambodia at that time as "invaders" and "occupiers".
While there was no official condemnation from the government, the commemoration should have proved controversial as the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) evolved from the People's Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea (PRPK), the regime that governed Cambodia under the control of Vietnamese forces.
Son Soubert (left), son of the Front's founder, prays as Ranariddh lays a wreath on a monument to the movement's fallen soldiers.
KR alliance necessary
Son Soubert, son of Son Sann, founder and former president of the KPNLF and himself a participant in the movement's administration, said he had sent a letter of invitation to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. Only Chea Sim responded, saying he had other obligations.
Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker, criticised the KPNLF for characterizing the Vietnamese as enemies.
"Vietnamese troops did not invade Cambodia," he told the Post by phone. "They came to help Cambodia from the Pol Pot regime - we should be thankful to the Vietnamese."
The exit of Vietnamese forces in 1989 came about not from resistance pressure from the border but because the PRPK was ready to rule on its own, he contended.
Opposition party representatives present at the ceremony, however, insisted the Front's cause was righteous and attributed the exit of Vietnam to its efforts.
"They fought for our freedom and sovereignty - that represents Khmer nationalism at its purest," said Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha.
Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Son Chhay had been the KPNLF's representative in southern Australia, where he was based then. "Without the resistance from the border, we would not have had the Paris Peace Accords," he said.
The KPNLF started in 1979, recruiting some of the hundreds of thousands of Cambodian refugees seeking sanctuary along the border with Thailand.
Its key figures had held prominent positions in the administrations of Sihanouk and right-wing general Lon Nol, and were unified in their opposition to communism and to the presence of Vietnamese forces in the country.
The Front was seen by the US and other Western allies as the most reliably anti-communist and pro-Western group in Cambodia.
In its effort to drive out the Vietnamese, the Front struck an awkward alliance with remnants of the Khmer Rouge. In 1982 the KPNLF entered the tripartite Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea.
The new coalition included the Party of Democratic Kampuchea, a splinter group of the defeated Khmer Rouge led by Khieu Samphan, and the royalist resistance movement known as Funcinpec, and represented Cambodia at the United Nations.
For the former leaders of the Front, the alliance with their ideological counterparts was a necessary evil.
"Son Sann always said the country is more important than the party or faction," said Pol Ham, who had been the Front's Information Minister.
"We hated the Khmer Rouge, but at that time we had to prioritise - and the foreign occupiers were the first enemy. We formed a coalition but kept our own identity."
Son Soubert was adamant the Front had never "joined" the Khmer Rouge.
"We were forced to enter a temporary coalition to achieve our goals," he said.
Funcinpec Senator Sabu Bacha, a former general of the Front's army, said the dire circumstances required divisions among Cambodians be put aside "so first we could expel foreign troops from our soil".