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Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk dies

King Norodom Sihanouk dies
King Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia’s highly revered king and one of the most iconic figures in the world, passed away October 15. He was King of the formerly French-occupied kingdom from 1941 until 1955 and again from 1993 until his abdication in 2004, after which he was accorded the title Father-King of Cambodia. King Norodom Sihanouk is the son of King Norodom Suramarit and Queen Sisowath Kossama.

Since his accession to the throne in 1941, he had held so many government posts that he was awarded by the Guinness World Record as the politician who held the most varieties of political offices. He was twice a king, twice a sovereign prince, once a president, twice as prime minister, and many more times a leader under various governments-in-exile, including holding the post as the puppet head of state during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, 1975-76. Most of the positions that he occupied were primarily honorific, including his last, as Cambodia’s constitutional monarch. He was the country’s effective ruler from the time the French granted the country’s independence in 1953 until he was deposed from the throne by General Lol Nol and the National Assembly in 1970.

The King died at a hospital in Beijing after suffering from a heart attack, although his health was already frail for several years, one reason why he abdicated in 2004.

According to BBC:
"His death was a great loss to Cambodia," said his assistant and relative Prince Sisowath Thomico. "King Sihanouk did not belong to his family, he belonged to Cambodia and to history."
His body is expected to be returned to Cambodia for an official funeral at the royal palace in Phnom Penh. King Sihamoni is flying to Beijing to accompany the late king home, a Cambodian government spokesman said.

A statement from China's foreign ministry hailed Sihanouk as a "great friend of the Chinese people".
The King “had suffered from a series of health problems recently, including cancer, diabetes and hypertension.
“Despite abdicating, the ex-monarch sometimes used his website to communicate with the outside world.”
King Norodom Sihanouk was born on Oct. 31, 1922. His father King Norodom Suramarit (1896-1960), was the son of Prince Norodom Sutharot. His mother, Queen Sisowath Kossamak (1904-1975) was the daughter of King Sissowath Monivong (1875-1941).

Early Years and Reign

Upon the death of King Monivong in 1941, Norodom was selected to succeed as king, bypassing his father. Educated at French schools in Saigon and in Paris, the Nazi-controlled Vichy government in France did this believing that the 18 year-old king could easily be swayed to the foreign side. However, after World War II, Sihanouk proved to be an able leader, launching an international campaign that sought the independence for Cambodia.

BBC writes:
"Despite being rebuffed by the US, whose policies towards Indo China Sihanouk was always scathing about, Cambodia won its freedom in 1953."

Cambodia eventually won over its independence without violence after almost 100 years of French rule. In 1955, he abdicated and handled the throne to his father, who reigned until his death in 1960. Sihanuk, meanwhile, served as the kingdom’s concurrent prime minister and foreign minister.

Political Turmoil

For the next 10 years, Sihanouk maintained Cambodia’s neutrality in international affairs. But at as the crisis in Vietnam worsened, Sihanouk became critical against the United States, accusing Washington-supported South Vietnamese troops of constant intrusions into the Cambodian borders. On the part of the Americans, Sihanouk was accused of supporting the Communist cause by letting North Vietnamese rebels to enter his kingdom.

In March 1970, while Sihanouk was on an overseas visit in the Soviet Union, General Lon Nol, then Cambodian Prime Minister, took over the government with American help. Sihanouk retreated to Beijing and in retaliation, secretly supported the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, who were emerging as a considerable fighting force.

BBC writes:
"When the Khmer Rouge moved into Phnom Penh in 1975, Sihanouk returned as head of state. He was criticised for acting as the chief apologist for the murderous Khmer Rouge regime and its leader Pol Pot."
However, Sihanouk’s action proved disastrous, even for his part. He became a virtual prisoner in his royal palace during much of Pol Pot’s regime. He said he was unaware of the Khmer Rouge's brutality, which included the killing of about one million Cambodians. Sihanouk’s family was also victim of the excesses of Khmer Rouge. In fact, five of his children, and at least 15 of his grandchildren all died in the hands of Pol Pot’s men. In early 1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and Sihanouk fled into exile in China.

Until 1981, Sihanouk held his government-in-exile in China and North Korea, holding firmly to his ideals to expel the Vietnamese from his kingdom. He refused to break with the Khmer Rouge who still held much military power. In 1982, he moved completely into opposition against the Vietnam-sponsored government. He was elected President of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), which was composed of his own party, Armée Nationale Sihanoukiste (ANS), Son Sann's Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), and the Khmer Rouge. The Vietnamese withdrew in 1989, allowing the establishment of pro-Vietnamese government under ex-Khmer Rouge cadre Hun Sen to run the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK).

Restoration to Power

Peace negotiations, where Sihanouk emerged as the leading figure, between Norodom’s party and the PRK started afterwards and lasted until 1991, after all groups decided to have a comprehensive settlement which was signed in Paris.

Sihanouk was noted cajoling and joking throughout the discussions, although he was also praised for his making his point throughout the negotiations. In fact, his performance was judged by many to be a triumph of diplomacy.

In 1991, Sihanouk was appointed president and in 1993, he was crowned, for the second time, King of Cambodia, after much twists and turns in the country’s politics. He retained this position until his final abdication in October 2004 due to ill health. He was succeeded by his son, Norodom Sihamuni.
As his final, Sihanouk eventually turned his back on the Khmer Rouge, accusing them as murderers, “calling for their leaders to face trial and seeking to exclude them from any role in government” BBC writes.

In his later years, often absent from his country to undergo medical treatment for cancer and a series of mild strokes, Sihanouk was seen less and less by his people.

But to the end he maintained their loyalty and was a vital force for unity in a turbulent part of the world.
He once said it would take a Shakespeare to do literary justice to his reign. "But the tragic hero is not Sihanouk but the people of Cambodia," he said.

Personality and Private Life

The King had two legal wives, Princess Samdech Norleak, whom he married in 1955, and Paule Monique Izzi, whom he married in 1956. She was born on June 18, 1936. The current King, Norodom Sihamoni is the his elder son by Queen Monineath. 

BBC writes of the King Norodom’s personality as “unpredictable, ebullient, mercurial, autocratic, [and] self-indulgent.”  He was married six times and fathered at least 14 children. He loved to play saxophone, an outstanding song writer, a film maker of certain capacity, “a bon vivant who loved French cooking and wines.” This manifested the King’s eccentric side, which he never fear of letting others see.

He once quipped jokingly: "Cambodians are all naughty boys, and that includes me."

All in all, BBC sums the King Norodom Sihanouk’s life:
"Yet beneath all the joking and indulgence was a master politician and leader who frequently changed allegiances but always tried to preserve the unity of his country and prevent it being gobbled up by the big power."


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