|Welcomed as heroes: Vietnamese war correspondents at the Independence Monument, Phnom Penh in 1979. From right: Phạm Vũ Tâm (Vietnam News Agency), Xuân Trường and Vũ Hưng (People’s Army newspaper) and Trần Mai Hưởng (Vietnam News Agency). VNA/VNS Photo Tiến Lợi|
I also never forget a brief meeting with Commander Vũ Cao of Division 341 on the night of January 7, 1979. Though the fighting was fierce, he provided the group of VNA journalists the most valuable information and helped us to work most efficiently.
Colonel Ba Cúc, political commander of the Cửu Long Division Group left various unforgettable memories as we travelled with the Group from the beginning of the campaign.
All of them were brave commanders, who had experienced several fierce wars, once again went with their soldiers to fight for Cambodia’s peace, and also for Việt Nam’s sovereignty.
I feel sympathetic to, and very proud of, the Vietnamese voluntary soldiers, experts and officers we met along the hard roads, during fierce fighting at key localities.
They had faced long lasting challenges on every road, in villages and on bridges, where enemies hid in darkness, in shelters and launched sudden attacks.
I met soldiers who were suffering from malaria after fighting in Phnom Malai.
I saw flights carrying seriously wounded soldiers from Siem Reap Airport heading for Việt Nam.
I passed many bridges where Vietnamese soldiers had been stationed day and night, longing for news from home, sharing small pieces of cigarettes, facing danger on each guard duty.
It’s impossible to list sacrifices by Vietnamese soldiers during those fierce days. Our country paid a great price to help Cambodia revive from the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime.
As is the natural way, it’s easy to feel the Cambodian people’s gratitude to the Vietnamese voluntary army or “Buddha’s army” as the survivors called them.
“If Vietnamese soldiers came a little later, my village would have died,” a young woman, named Phonni, told me in tears.
Locals in Chong kho Niek Village in Tonle Sap Lake would never forget three Vietnamese soldiers who led the whole village across the lake in dry season to return to their former settlement.
In the first years after the liberation, I met famous intellectuals including Princess Linda (real name Sisowath Sovethvong), Minister of Heath Dr Myxamodi and Minister of Education Prof Penna Vut, who all expressed their gratitude to Vietnamese people and their army.
In 1983, I had the chance to witness the first withdrawal of Vietnamese voluntary troops. We visited many places and met soldiers from the tank unit that would lead the army contingent in the withdrawal ceremony.
The tank unit’s commander Trần Ngọc Giao was the person who himself directed the first tank into Phnom Penh four years before. A few years before liberation day, the Quảng Ninh-born man sustained several injuries while many of his comrades died. In our talk, he expressed his joy on returning home and sympathy for his dead comrades as well as deep gratitude for the sincere care offered by locals.
Dola, the headmistress of a primary school in the capital Phnom Penh told me “3,000 pupils in her school wrote letters to express their gratitude to Vietnamese soldiers.
In Giao’s pocket, there is a letter from a pupil named Mit Chum, who wrote innocent and moving words.
Many such letters had been sent to Vietnamese soldiers, who were just in the beginning of a years-long process, with lots of challenges ahead until the day the last Vietnamese soldiers returned home in 1989.
On the first withdrawal ceremony, leading tanks passed by Independent Monument in downtown Phnom Penh, then came military vehicles carrying soldiers.
A solemn ceremony was dedicated to Vietnamese voluntary soldiers with speeches by the top leaders of the Cambodian Party and State.
But locals made the strongest impression. They queued along Monivong Boulevard, roads to the outskirts, along National Highway 1, through Kandal, Pray Veng and Svay Rieng… Thousands of locals with flowers in their hands waving to their rescuers. Smiles, tears and colourful flowers were given to Vietnamese soldiers. VNS
Remembering heroic efforts
*Cambodia’s Chairman of National Assembly Heng Samrin said at a ceremony to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation (KUFNS), today’s Solidarity Front for Development of the Cambodian Motherland (December 2, 1979 – December 2, 2018) in Snuol District, Kratie Province, Cambodia:
“The ceremony is organised based on the spirit of the Cambodian people, who always remember great efforts by heroic male and female soldiers of Cambodia and voluntary soldiers from Việt Nam, who sacrificed their blood and bones during the cause of overthrowing the Pol Pot genocidal regime.”
“Real compatriots of the Cambodia People’s Party, who survived after mass killings by the Pol Pot regime, stood up to fight against the Khmer Rouge and established the Front on December 2, 1978 together with the support by Vietnamese voluntary troops. They destroyed the Pol Pot regime on January 7, 1979.
“History cannot be changed, what was real cannot be denied. The army of the KUFNS, though just established, thanks to the support of all people, especially the timely, great and effective support and assistance by Vietnamese voluntary army, succeeded in toppling the genocidal regime in a glorious victory on January 7, 1979.
“The victory turned Cambodia from a ’killing field’ into a peaceful Cambodia as it is today.”
*Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke at a press conference after a meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc on December 7, 2018 in Hà Nội:
“We are glad to see the relationship between the two countries is developing comprehensively in all fields…
“Two-way trade turnover in 2018 reached huge advancements, approximately US$4.5 billion. With this speed, the two sides may reach the aim of $5 billion before the target year of 2020 and even reach a further amount….
“In 2018, with over half a million visitors to Cambodia, Việt Nam ranked second in the list of international tourists to Cambodia.
“Especially, the two countries have completed 84 per cent of the task of erecting land border markers. This is evidence of the huge efforts and determination by the two sides in building the common border line in peace, friendship, for co-operation and development.
The two sides agreed to organise solemn ceremonies to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the victory over the Pol Pot regime (January 7, 1979 – 2019) to confirm the history when the two countries supported each other to fight together, to sacrifice together for today’s peace in the two countries so that next generations will continue to preserve and develop this noble tradition, continue to nurture the traditional solidarity and friendship and comprehensive co-operation between Việt Nam and Cambodia.
“Cambodia has been focusing on two main strategies. First, turning the battlefields into markets. Second, turning border areas into areas of co-operation, peace, friendship and mutual development.
“I’m happy to see co-operation at border areas; and what used to be battlefields are now markets, where people exchange goods in friendship.”
|Friendly neighbours: Border guards in the southern province of Kiên Giang, which hosts a 56.8-km border with Cambodia, on a patrol mission. The force aims to establish a peaceful border area with Cambodia for friendship and mutual development. VNA/VNS Photo Nguyễn Vũ Thành Đạt|
* Việt Nam People’s Army Sr Lt General Nguyễn Chí Vịnh, vice Defence Minister:
“… I could confirm that we were not surprised at the nature of the Khmer Rouge, the group’s betrayal, first to the Cambodian people and second to Việt Nam. Hence, we were not surprised at all during that war…
“When we understood we could not avoid the war – in other words, sitting still was committing suicide, Việt Nam decided: Fight! Fight to protect people and protect the sovereignty of the country! Fight to revive our neighbours, the Cambodian people! Fight to maintain peace…
“Up to now, we can be proud to say that the international community and the Cambodian people highly appreciated the justice of our sending troops to Cambodia, our staying for more than ten years to support the Cambodian people to settle down to their new lives after liberation, finding a solution for the Khmer Rouge problem, and maintaining stability and development until today.”
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