Cambodia observed Independence Day on November 9, marking the 69th anniversary of the Kingdom gaining independence from France on November 9, 1953. The day was observed by more than 10,000 government officials, Buddhist monks and the public with an event at Independence Monument in Phnom Penh.

This year’s Independence Day celebration coincided with the Water Festival and will be followed by the ASEAN Summit and related meetings attended by several world leaders, including US President Joe Biden and UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres.

At the celebration, King Norodom Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen, National Assembly president Heng Samrin, Senate president Say Chhum, Minister of National Defence Tea Banh, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, among others, attended the celebration, along with a crowd of more than 10,000 youths, members of the armed forces, civil servants, monks and the public.

Before attending the event, Hun Sen took to social media noting that this year’s Independence Day also marked the 69th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).

“This November 9 Independence Day reminds us of the activities of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, the father of national independence for the sake of the Khmer motherland and people, who had bravely devoted himself totally, both mentally and physically, to demanding real independence for Cambodia,” Hun Sen wrote.

The late King Father started fighting for independence as early as 1946 and achieved it without violence or bloodshed in 1953. Cambodia became a protectorate of France in 1863, with the total duration of French rule lasting 90 years.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina was among the dignitaries who attended the celebration.

“The national Independence Day that Cambodia observes every year is a reminder to all Cambodian compatriots to remember the value of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, none of which is possible without peace,” he said after the event.

Foreign diplomats also congratulated Cambodia on the anniversary of its independence, including the US and Chinese embassies.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was quoted in a US Department of State press release praising Cambodia for its leadership efforts.

“The US commends Cambodia for its leadership of ASEAN during a challenging year. We value our cooperation with Cambodia in jointly addressing regional and global concerns, including the crises in [Myanmar] and Ukraine.

“We will continue to stand with Cambodians as they pursue a more prosperous, democratic and independent future,” Blinken said.

During his meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on November 9, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba also conveyed the regards of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who congratulated Cambodia on its 69th Independence Day.

Hun Many, a lawmaker for Kampong Speu province, said Cambodia had gone through many different eras in its history, but only in the last two decades has the Kingdom been able to observe Independence Day in peace, prosperity and with territorial unity.

Students hold pictures of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk on Independence Day, November 9. Hong Menea

He said the celebration was made possible thanks to Hun Sen’s win-win policy which had ended the nearly four decades of civil war.

Former opposition leader Kem Sokha, whose treason trial is set to conclude in December, also took to social media to celebrate the day. He said that real independence is only found in respect for human rights.

“If Khmer respect human rights and do not cause harm to others as well as not making enemies of any Khmer, that would bring national solidarity. National solidarity brings national unity and strong national independence,” he wrote.

Professor of history Sambo Manara and Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun noted that national independence is priceless and all Cambodians must be united to maintain it.

Manara said that November 9 is a day of remembrance for the Cambodian people of the history of Cambodia as a French protectorate during the French colonial period.

He recalled the heroism of the late King Father, saying: “Cambodia received independence through the use of diplomacy and peaceful means. The time that elapsed from King Sihanouk coming to the throne until independence was gained was only 12 years. Thus, the effort to resist, to struggle and prepare before and after World War II allowed us to gain independence through his efforts.”

He noted that the then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk made important moves, both abroad and domestically. He said that the movement within the country had young men and women who were brave and supported him, who challenged French rule and set things in the right direction. He added that although the movement was disrupted, it still had a strong will to move forward and the prince put his body and mind into this work and became confident of its success as his popularity increased.

“Do not forget that we gained independence from France, in the context that France itself and much of the world as a whole achieved independence following the events of World War II.

“Cambodia has benefited a lot because when a country can maintain its national independence, it means that it can do things on its own, whereas if the country is under the rule of others, it would not be able to do so,” he said.

Chanroeun said that Independence Day is a special occasion to commemorate the heroism and invaluable sacrifice of Cambodians who sacrificed everything to claim and defend national independence.

He added that this generation of Cambodians must have the attitude that they live in an independent nation to strengthen national unity and maintain and protect national independence, because only with independence do citizens have the rights, freedoms and the dignity to live on their land in true ownership of it.

“We must continue to maintain our national defense externally and internally the spirit of reconciliation and national unity, because unity and solidarity is the only way to preserve our national independence,” Chanroeun said.

He added that if a nation has independence, then its people will have the opportunity to develop the nation and prosper further.