Kabul’s fall a reminder of Phnom Penh in 1975: PM

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Prime Minister Hun Sen made the remarks in a speech on September 12 at the seventh World Rally of Hope: Think-Tank 2022, held via video conference and organised by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) with the theme "Peace in the Asia-Pacific”. SPM

Prime Minister Hun Sen said the situation in Afghanistan evoked memories of when the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh in 1975, one of the bitterest events in Cambodian history that marked the beginning of a period of utmost grief.

Hun Sen made the remarks in a speech on September 12 at the seventh World Rally of Hope: Think-Tank 2022, held via video conference and organised by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) with the theme "Peace in the Asia-Pacific”.

He noted that the geopolitical event in the region that had attracted a great deal of international attention was the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s takeover of its capital Kabul.

“This event is a grim and bitter reminder of what happened in Cambodia on April 17, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh, a day which was marked by the utmost grief.

“Cambodia and the people remember this tragedy and are determined to prevent any similar events from ever happening again,” he said.

He said the geopolitical landscape in the Asia-Pacific region was fast-changing with global power shifts and geopolitical rivalries becoming more complex, delicate and fraught with the utmost dangers.

“Unfortunately, to some extent, the geopolitical fault lines have now been redrawn, which could render them vulnerable to tendencies towards atypical disruptions. That is, small states are being placed under mounting pressure to choose sides against their will and interests,” he said.

The prime minister said practical experiences from the political developments in Afghanistan and elsewhere clearly show that peace and nation-building can only be achieved by local stakeholders within the country where the conflict is occurring and other countries cannot perform the roles of the local stakeholders in achieving those objectives.

“In this regard, I would like to emphasise that ‘national ownership’ is the key to success and to sustained peace. In other words, countries cannot transplant and impose their political values and systems upon any other country, as these fundamentally need to be indigenously developed corresponding to the political, socio-economic and cultural contexts of each individual country,” he stressed.

Hun Sen said Cambodia is an example of a role model for other countries which can learn from its experiences and the complete peace the Kingdom has built with the participation of all relevant parties in the country.

According to Hun Sen, Cambodia had not achieved complete peace in the 1990s even after the international community had spent about $2 billion. The war in Cambodia was prolonged until December 1998 when it finally ended with the implementation of his win-win policy that found a political solution for the Cambodian people.

“In this regard, I re-emphasise that we must have ‘national ownership’ of peace-building and nation building in the post-conflict period,” he said.

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During the summit, Hun Sen was awarded with a Peace Medal by the UPF.

York Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), told The Post that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is more similar to what happened in Cambodia in 1975 than it was to the situation in Saigon when the US airlifted their remaining troops from Vietnam that same year.

He said when the Khmer Rouge seized power in April 1975, the US forces rushed to depart from Cambodia and oversaw a chaotic evacuation of US personnel, Cambodian government officials and anyone who could secure any kind of refugee status or other status that would permit their departure.

“No doubt the sense of abandonment, insecurity and sheer terror that pervaded many Cambodian people in 1975 is shared by many Afghans [today] as well, particularly those who dedicated their lives to a free Afghanistan,” he said.

He concluded that this sense of abandonment is not only directed at the US, but also the UN and the international community who bear an equal portion of the responsibility for the situation in Afghanistan – just like they bore some degree of responsibility for what occurred in Cambodia in 1975.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia's International Relations Institute, said the way the Taliban controls Afghanistan is similar in method to those used by the Khmer Rouge, though they use them in service to a different – but no less extreme – ideology.

He said the Taliban had recently promised to make reforms to their government but it was hard to believe because the group had taken the path of extremism in the first place to rule the country based on their fundamentalist religious views.

Regarding the Peace Medal awarded to Hun Sen, Phea said the prime minister deserves such honours because he was the founder of the peaceful era now enjoyed by modern Cambodia.