SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND —
Cambodian Americans are mourning the death of former King Norodom Sihanouk, the country's effective ruler from 1953, at Cambodia's independence from France, to 1970, years of tumult. He survived the brutal Khmer Rouge takeover of the mid-1970s as well as years of exile.
Buddhist monks say a prayer for the soul of the late Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk.
Mourners in the Washington area have been stopping by a Cambodian Buddhist temple to pay respects since his death was announced Sunday evening.
Chief Monk Chanhan Ouk Abbot says King Sihanouk will be remembered as a unifying force.
“What we can remember about him is the independence in 1953. Cambodia had peace and harmony for almost 20 years after that. We could travel anywhere without fear. The standard of living was high. This is what the people will remember about the king," he said.
King Sihanouk took the throne in 1941. Most Cambodians remember him as the man who advocated the end of French rule in the 1950s.
During the war in neighboring Vietnam, he struggled to maintain Cambodia’s neutrality. He was deposed in a U.S.-backed coup in 1970.
Later, he backed, then essentially became a hostage of the brutal Khmer Rouge government until it was ousted in 1979. He returned to the throne in the 1990’s but age and ill-health led him to abdicate in 2004.
Today, young Cambodians remember him for an era of peace and economic growth. Dalis Srey came to pay her respects.
“I remember him as someone who saved us from the Khmer Rouge genocide. Someone who brought prosperity to the country. He is very well respected for all his work and dedication to the country," she said.
Others, like Shanley Kuch, expressed distaste for the former king's early support for the Khmer Rouge.
“It is evidently documented that he was the one who called the Cambodian people into the countryside and run into the jungles to become members of the Khmer Rouge movement," he said.
But for most gathered here, the death of the man known as the “King Father” was a shock. They call it a loss for Cambodia and the world.