More than 40 years ago, in April 1975, a genocidal regime was formed throughout Cambodia. As soon as taking power in Cambodia, Pol Pot and his fellow eradicated all available social, cultural, educational, medical, economic systems, imposed severe rules on their people, and turned the country into the medieval age. There were no trading places, no religious ceremonies, no children going to school in the country while Cambodian people had "zero" freedom: No freedom of movement, no freedom of assembly, no freedom of speech, no freedom of belief, no freedom of education, no freedom of marriage... In less than four years in power, the Khmer Rouge government headed by Pol Pot - Ieng Sary Clique killed over 3 million people, making Cambodia a huge mass grave.

Vietnamese volunteer soldiers helping Cambodian people repair their houses. Source: File photo

In the historical documentary film “Marching towards national salvation” produced in 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen recalled that witnessing the brutality of the Pol Pot genocidal regime, he decided to run to Vietnam and asked the country to help organize a resistance movement to free his nation. He also knew that a large number of Cambodians were seeking to flee to Vietnam. According to him, he believed Vietnam because it was a good neighbor that had once committed themselves to Cambodia in its struggle against the common enemy.

In June 1977, he and four other people ran through forests toward Vietnam. The first day reaching Vietnam’s territory and meeting Vietnamese people was also the first time after many months that he and his team members were able to eat a full meal with rice, vegetables and meat. Back home in Cambodia, the daily diet at that time of most Cambodians was porridge. “Vietnamese people treated us – Cambodian refugees, very well in a humane way even though they did not know whether we were friends or foes. We were provided with good food and accommodation. Knowing we smoked cigarettes, they gave us cigarettes. We felt very lucky when taking refuge in Vietnam and meeting kind people. It was very difficult to identify friends or foes at that time, as we were from Cambodia, whose leadership was waging a war against Vietnam. Despite that fact, Vietnamese people treated us like that. That's enough to understand,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In an effort to build up a revolutionary force based on Cambodia's key cadres and with the effective assistance of Vietnam, the 125th Division - the predecessor of the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army, led by Mr. Hun Sen, was founded on May 12, 1978. After that, the Central Committee of the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation was established on December 2, 1978 with Mr. Heng Samrin as Chairman. They were the core of the Cambodian revolutionary forces and revolutionary armed forces, marking a new development of Cambodia's revolution.

In response to an urgent call of the National Solidarity Front to save Cambodia, and at the same time to carry out the right of self-defense to protect its sacred Fatherland, Vietnamese soldiers launched a general counterattack against Pol Pot troops in occupied Vietnamese localities along the shared border, and then together with Cambodian people and armed forces fought the Pol Pot genocidal regime to save the Cambodian people, the majestic ancient temples of Angkor and the magical Apsara dance. The victory on January 7, 1979 over the Pol Pot genocidal regime stemmed from and embodied the unity and friendship between the Vietnamese people and Cambodian people, the Vietnamese armed forces and Cambodian armed forces, and Vietnamese revolution and the Cambodian revolution.

“Can we ask whether, in this world, there is a country that has helped the Cambodian people, especially liberating from the genocide of Pol Pot and preventing their return? The answer is the Vietnamese people and armed forces. The Cambodian people have faith that only Buddha can save them when they encounter extreme difficulties. Just when the Cambodian people were about to die, they could, with their hands together, pray for help, and the Vietnamese volunteer soldiers appeared. The Vietnamese army is a Buddhist army,” Prime Minister Hun Sen stated when he attended the inauguration ceremony of the relic site in commemoration of the 125th Division of the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army in the Vietnamese province of Dong Nai, in January 2012.

After the victory on January 7, 1979, the Vietnamese volunteer troops would withdraw their troops from Cambodia, according to the initial plan. However, at that time, remnants of the defeated Pol Pot force remained large and powerful while the Cambodian revolutionary government and armed forces were not strong enough to protect their people. Moreover, the Cambodian needed peace to restore the economy, consolidate the institution and rebuild infrastructure. If Vietnamese volunteer troops had withdrawn and Pol Pot had returned, more Cambodians would have been killed. “The Vietnamese Government did want to withdraw its troops from Cambodia. Our side asked them to stay on. Then we agreed, Vietnam would reduce their forces in 1982. The Vietnamese Government would reduce the number of troops, and we will increase our forces,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said in an interview conducted by two journalists Harish C. Mehta and Julie B.Mehta, author of the book “Hun Sen - Cambodia's best character” published in 1999.

Along with military activities, Vietnam sent experts to help Cambodia build local governments, provided material supports, and invested in developing the economy, rebuilding infrastructure ruined by the genocidal regime. Talking to two journalists Harish C. Mehta and Julie B. Mehta, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that Vietnamese experts “help us with opinions and let Cambodian people make their own decisions.” “Foreign advisors come to Cambodia - if we don't listen to them - they will threaten to cut off aid... They [Vietnamese experts] treat us as the masters of our country. They said Vietnam occupied Cambodia, but in fact, Vietnam did many good things for us. Vietnam is generous to us. Vietnam's most important role is to prevent Pol Pot from returning. Politically, Cambodians themselves make decisions,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Written by Hoang Vu

Translated by Thu Nguyen