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For Mr. Hun Sen and his followers, the Vietnamese were not invaders, but to his opponents they always were.

Mr. Khamboly Dy wrote that the Vietnamese “fought their way into Cambodia” alongside Cambodian resistance forces, including Mr. Hun Sen. “This is the fact. Whether they invaded or liberated [Cambodia] is only political interpretation,” he said.

Before defecting, the prime minister served as a military commander with the Khmer Rouge, while ex-King Norodom Sihanouk forged an alliance with them against the U.S.-backed government of the early 1970s.

Researchers say there is no evidence linking Mr. Hun Sen and King Sihanouk to the Khmer Rouge atrocities despite their past alliance with the now-defunct communist movement, making it unlikely for either of them to be indicted by the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal. King Sihanouk was under house arrest, and many of his royal family members perished during the Khmer Rouge period.

The government has endorsed the book as core reference material for writing future history textbooks, but not for use in general education, said Sorn Samnang, president of the government-run Royal Academy, who sat on a committee that scrutinized Mr. Khamboly Dy’s book.

Although it contained useful information, he said, the book could affect many people still alive who were involved with the Khmer Rouge. He did not elaborate.

Such an attitude only “suggests that any excuse, however shameless, will be seized upon if it helps the Cambodian authorities avoid raking over the past,” said Philip Short, who wrote “Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare,” a political biography of the late Khmer Rouge leader.

Chey Vann Virak, an 11th-grade student in Phnom Penh, said his history teacher would randomly mention “a little bit” about the killings under the Khmer Rouge.

At home, the 17-year-old said, his parents occasionally recalled for him and his three siblings the sufferings they endured and say, “All of you are just lucky to have been born and grown up in this era.”

That is all he knows about the Khmer Rouge.