Thursday, December 5, 2013
The Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Former Cambodian king Norodom Sihanouk died Monday in Beijing, the government said. He was 89.
The Associated Press
Cambodia's current monarch, Sihanouk's son, Norodom Sihamoni, and Prime Minister Hun Sen traveled to Beijing to collect the body. They were greeted at the airport by Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
A funeral will be held in Cambodia, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said. He said Sihanouk died of old age. Sihanouk had received medical treatment for years in the Chinese capital for cancer and other ailments.
The charismatic former king was a significant political figure in Cambodia for nearly 60 years. He was born during French colonial rule and campaigned for his country's 1953 independence.
His rule was overthrown by a coup that the U.S. supported in 1970, upon which he began the first of several stints leading a resistance movement in exile.
The dominant force behind the resistance were communist insurgents that Sihanouk dubbed "les Khmer Rouge," or red Cambodians, who would go on to seize power in 1975.
During the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule, an estimated 1.7 million to 2.2 million people, including members of the royal family, died through forced labor, starvation, disease and summary executions.
Sihanouk returned to Phnom Penh and was kept under house arrest at the royal palace by the regime.
Following the regime's defeat, Sihanouk sought Vietnam's withdrawal from the country and was a central figure in the 1991 Paris peace accords that led to elections two years later.
Sihanouk regained the throne after the elections but abdicated again in 2004 due to poor health.
Professor David Chandler, a historian and author of several books on Cambodian history, said Monday that the former king was "loved by many" and his tactical alliance with the Khmer Rouge would probably be forgotten.
"He will probably be remembered as someone who presided over a uniquely 'happy' period of Cambodian history, running roughly from 1945 to 1967," he said. "He will also be known and rightly praised for keeping Cambodia out of the Vietnam war as long as possible."
Sihanouk's official biographer, Julio A Jeldres, also paid tribute to the former king and said he never lost his "charm, politeness or his marvelous sense of humour," even when anxious.
The former monarch died as Cambodia marked its annual festival of the dead, when families come together to remember their ancestors. News of his death spread quickly through social media websites, with tributes to him posted online.