Minister of National Defence Tea Banh said on Thursday that having sanctions and external pressure placed on Cambodia was not worse than life under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.
Tea Banh, who is also deputy prime minister, was speaking to military and ruling party officials as they commemorated the 42nd anniversary of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s struggle to reach Vietnam in 1977 and return with troops to liberate Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge His journey began at Koh Thmar, in Memot district’s Tonloung commune in the eastern Tbong Khmum province.
“I regard sanctions and external pressure as not being worse than the Pol Pot regime, which created a ‘prison without walls’.
“With them, people could only wait to be killed,” Banh said.
Without mentioning any names, Banh said some people had tried to misrepresent the facts regarding Cambodia.
“Nowadays, there are messages from abroad, and these messages keep coming endlessly. They slander us and try to incite us. They do not mention the truth – they say only that Cambodia has been devastated."
“And some ambitious foreign groups outright believe this handful of voices and try to find every way . . . they boast of putting on sanctions and pressure. We all have to remember this,” said the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) member of the National Assembly for Siem Reap province.
Banh also appealed to the military to strengthen themselves in order to fulfil their duties and in preparation for facing any new possible dangers posed by what he called the “ignorant” group or enemy attempting to bring down the CPP-led government of Hun Sen.
He said they had to protect peace and the accomplishments Cambodia had made.
“Talking about livelihoods, they say Cambodia is getting poorer and poorer, and that they cannot allow Cambodia to remain in this situation and must make a change. They say it is necessary to change the government."
“They chant ‘change, change’ everywhere and tell young children to shout the word. I ask: what was that? In the past, we did not even have a bowl to put porridge in. Now we at least have this and many other things. Why do you need [regime] change?” Banh asked.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Banh may have been referring to two groups, including former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials in self-exile.
The other may have been members of the Cambodia diaspora who he said did not know the truth regarding development in Cambodia.
Phea agreed with Banh that having international sanctions placed would not be worse than life under the Khmer Rouge.
However, he said Cambodian politicians should stop comparing the current situation with the Khmer Rouge era. Making such comparisons would not make Cambodia develop further, he said.
“Politicians should stop comparing now with the past but should see how Cambodia compares to other countries that have been through similar situations. How have these countries developed so far and how we should develop our country?"
“We should not take political advantage from the Khmer Rouge era, instead we should have new ideas for the country’s prosperity,” he said.
Banh also appealed to teachers to spread Hun Sen’s story in schools. He told the Buddhist clergy and artists to educate the public on this part of history.
He said the research team at the Institute of Military History should continue their research into Hun Sen’s journey from June 21, 1977, to May 12, 1978, while he was in Vietnam.
“We have to continue this work and tell the true history – this is to avoid the confusion that could turn a liberator into something else. This would be against the truth,” he said.
Youk Chhang, the executive director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), said on Thursday that significant historical sites regarding the Khmer Rouge needed to be highlighted and preserved.
“Revisiting such history is a healing process … important for all and the nation herself,” he said.
He said Hun Sen’s journey to Vietnam had not been well recorded because it involved Cambodia’s eastern neighbour.
“However, we cannot talk about the Khmer Rouge without having an objective discussion about both Vietnam and China,” Chhang said.