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The Vietnamese soldiers and people and the revival of Cambodia

40 years ago, the Vietnamese-Cambodian relations recorded a watershed event, which was possibly one of a kind in human history. In the face of difficulties and sacrifices, Vietnamese people, directly voluntary soldiers, altruistically helped Cambodians to escape the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime, revive social life and rebuild their once-beautiful country.

At the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (photo: CNN)

Following the victory of their resistance wars against the US (on April 17th, 1975), while Cambodians espoused their strongly held belief in building a life of independence and peace, the Pol Pot regime betrayed them. The Pol Pot regime set about emptying the cities, abolishing market, money, school and religion. Cambodians were forced from the cities into rural labour camps to do back-breaking work. To make matters worse, they carried out wanton mass killings, pushing Cambodians to the brink of extermination. With all their civil rights being trampled on, Cambodians were forced to submit themselves to Angkar’s [the name given to the Khmer Rouge leadership] order, tensely waiting for their deaths to come at any time. According to the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation, Pol Pot conducted a rule of terror that led to the deaths of some 3 million people (including Party members, military officers, intellectuals, doctors, artists, etc), and the destruction of scores of schools, hospitals, pagodas, and so on.

The Pol Pot group trampled on the close long-standing friendship between Vietnam and Cambodia. While Vietnamese people all were seeking to heal war wounds following the liberation of South Vietnam, Pol Pot took military actions against Vietnam with the invasion of Phu Quoc and Tho Chu islands and the murder of 500 civilians to start with. On the occasion of our 2nd anniversary of the liberation of South Vietnam, Pol Pot forces simultaneously mounted a series of attacks on the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. Between May, 1975 and March, 1978, they killed and wounded over 1,000 Vietnamese civilians, pillaging and burning thousands of schools, hospitals, houses and paddy fields.

While Vietnam reserved the right to take retaliatory actions against and were fully capable of defeating invaders, our Party and State redoubled sustained efforts to preserve peace given traditional solidarity and friendship between the two nations. Nevertheless, the Pol Pot clique rebuffed our goodwill by continuously raiding Vietnamese areas on the border, slaughtering Vietnamese civilians and pursuing a public policy of hatred against Vietnam.

Against this backdrop, true communist party members and Cambodia’s eminent sons placed their trust in Vietnam to establish the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation and to save Cambodians from genocide.

Initially, Vietnam was not fully aware of happenings in Cambodia. However, on learning the truth from true Cambodian revolutionaries and in response to Cambodians’ urgent appeal for help, on December 23rd, 1978, Vietnamese people and soldiers launched a counter-offensive against Pol Pot forces on the border and joined fledgling Cambodian armed forces in simultaneously attacking Pol Pot’s strongholds. After 25 days and nights of hard fighting and heavy sacrifices, Vietnamese voluntary soldiers succeeded in helping Cambodian armed forces to topple the genocidal regime and retake cities and towns across the country.

Wherever Vietnamese voluntary soldiers and the armed forces of the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation went, they met with rapturous reception from locals. Although they had yet to be freed of terror, many Cambodians, young and old alike, willingly helped Vietnamese voluntary soldiers to hunt down retreating Pol Pot forces. The tragic plight of Cambodians moved Vietnamese voluntary soldiers to tears. Atrocities committed by the Pol Pot regime were beyond Vietnamese voluntary soldiers’ imagination, which further motivated the latter to save Cambodians from genocide.

While the Pol Pot regime was overthrown, the remainder either fled into forests or blended in to terrorize Cambodians. Therefore, the threat of Pol Pot’s return still weighed Cambodians down on a daily basis. Against this backdrop, the Government of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea appealed to Vietnamese voluntary soldiers and experts to remain and help Cambodians to settle down, to consolidate local administrations and to rebuild the country from scratch.

During their 4- year minus reign of terror, the Pol Pot regime wrought widespread desolation on Cambodia with infrastructure being destroyed and severe famine raging through the country. As a result, following the liberation of Cambodia, chief among urgent problems was to prevent famine, to repatriate Cambodians, to reorganize production and to stabilize social life.

Despite the fact that it was in the midst of considerable difficulties, Vietnam helped Cambodia with famine relief and agricultural production in the immediate term. Thanks to tremendous supports from Vietnamese people, particularly those in military regions 5, 7, 9, tons of food, means of production and tools for everyday life were transported to Cambodia. As such, Vietnamese voluntary soldiers undertook multiple tasks to help Cambodia, including massive manhunts for retreating Pol Pot forces, famine relief, mass mobilization, direct participation in joint agricultural production. With the help of Vietnamese people, particularly voluntary soldiers and experts, Cambodians prevented famines bit by bit and stabilized their life little by little on the very first days of liberation. Moreover, Vietnamese voluntary soldiers helped to transport back to their hometowns Cambodians who had been displaced by the Pol Pot regime. Vietnamese voluntary soldiers and medical experts also helped Cambodian locals with the clean-up of surroundings, epidemic preparedness and response, gradual resumption of the healthcare system and medical check-up and treatment.

The aforementioned successful efforts to provide famine relief, medical treatment and breeding cattle, which seemingly sound trivial under normal circumstances, were of great importance amidst Cambodians’ physical and mental exhaustion and retreating Pol Pot forces’ fiendish plots to plant the seeds of hostility and division and to get rid of Vietnamese voluntary soldiers. They demonstrated a noble international spirit and the altruistic support of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) as “Uncle Ho’s soldiers”. What matters was to help Cambodians to build the armed forces and the State apparatus so that they were capable of defending, managing and building the country on their own. Accordingly, at first, Cambodian military units were absorbed into Vietnamese ones so that the former could be instructed and trained by the latter. As soon as Cambodian military units became well capable of standing on their own feet, they would be separated from Vietnamese military units with the latter helping the former with materiel. At the same time, Vietnam sent a lot of experts to help Cambodia to build the State apparatus from central to grassroots levels, to train cadres, and to build socio-political organizations such as trades unions, women’s Associations, youths’ unions. As a result, Cambodia’s revolutionary and armed forces matured considerably to become capable of national construction and defense on their own. This laid a foundation for Vietnam’s withdrawal of her voluntary soldiers and experts from Cambodia in 1989 as agreed by the two States and Governments.

Vietnam’s 10-year plus support for Cambodia was accompanied by countless hardships with tens of thousands of Vietnamese voluntary soldiers and experts either laying down their lives or being wounded in the process. Vietnamese voluntary soldiers have left an indelible imprint on Cambodians with the latter fondly calling the former “Troops sent by the Buddha”, contributing to fostering the solidarity between the two nations. Successful efforts by Vietnamese voluntary soldiers to save Cambodians from genocide added a new step forward to the VPA’S proven track record. They resulted from our Party’s sound policy and Ho Chi Minh Thought (according to which “helping our friends means helping ourselves”), the traditional solidarity between the Vietnamese and Cambodians, as well as Vietnamese voluntary soldiers’ iron will to fight and enormous sacrifices together with wholehearted supports from Cambodian armed forces and locals in the joint struggle against the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary clique. The ouster of the Khmer Rouge regime also confirmed the Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP) leadership over building forces, mass mobilization, and effective policies for national construction. All of these have laid a firm foundation for the rejection of wrong and hostile viewpoints that aim to negate the roles played by the CPP and Vietnamese voluntary soldiers in the ouster of the Khmer Rouge regime 40 years ago.

Nowadays, under the leadership of the Royal Government, Cambodians have gained tremendous achievements in the cause of national construction and defense and made contributions to the struggle for independence, prosperity, solidarity and cooperation in the region and the world at large. Cambodia’s political system has been increasingly consolidated while her economy, starting from zero, has made great strides for the past 40 years. Cambodia is now a major exporter of rice in the region. Its spearhead economic sectors, such as textile and apparel exports, tourism, agriculture, construction, have made progress, greatly contributing to the country’s economic growth. Despite uncertainties in the global economy, the Cambodian economy has still maintained its steady growth rate, averaging 7.7% for the last two decades, which has contributed to improving Cambodians’ living standards. According to the World Bank, economic growth in Cambodia is projected to average 7% in 2018 and 2019. Cambodia’s foreign relations have been further expanded while her status has been enhanced in the international arena. The Vietnamese-Cambodian friendship has been increasingly deepened in all fields, offering practical benefits for both peoples and contributing to stability in the region and the world at large.

The 40th anniversary of Cambodia’s liberation from the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime (07-01-1979 – 07-01-2019) provides an opportunity for both countries to rekindle treasured memories of fighting side by side for the revival of Cambodians. The destinies of our two nations are inseparable. In the face of ordeals, the Vietnamese-Cambodian solidarity is always as durable as the Mekong River that connects two countries. It is essential to educate both peoples, particularly younger generations, on the importance of promoting the bilateral relations under the motto “good neighborliness, traditional friendship, comprehensive cooperation, long-lasting stability”. Vietnam is always Cambodia’s faithful neighbor in the latter’s cause of national construction and defense.

Le Kha Phieu, Former General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Central Committee

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The Vietnamese soldiers and people and the revival of Cambodia
40 years ago, the Vietnamese-Cambodian relations recorded a watershed event, which was possibly one of a kind in human history. In the face of difficulties and sacrifices, Vietnamese people, directly voluntary soldiers, altruistically helped Cambodians to escape the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime, revive social life and rebuild their once-beautiful country
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