News / Asia

Former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk Dies

Cambodian students hold portraits of former King Norodom Sihanouk during an Independence Day celebration in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 9, 2011.Cambodian students hold portraits of former King Norodom Sihanouk during an Independence Day celebration in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 9, 2011.
x
Cambodian students hold portraits of former King Norodom Sihanouk during an Independence Day celebration in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 9, 2011.
Cambodian students hold portraits of former King Norodom Sihanouk during an Independence Day celebration in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 9, 2011.
Ron Corben
Chinese state media reports that Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk, one of Southeast Asia's defining leaders, has died in Beijing.  He was 89. King Sihanouk led Cambodia to independence, but war and his role in the murderous reign of the Khmer Rouge marred his life and times. 
 
Flamboyant monarch, politician, film and music maker, King Norodom Sihanouk brought his ancient kingdom through independence from France, war and genocide to form a fragile democracy.
 
Sihanouk, born in 1922, was an only child whose parents were estranged. He was educated in Saigon and Paris, and came to the throne as a shy student of 19 in 1941.  
 
In October 2004, in fading health, he abdicated in favor of his son, Norodom Sihamoni.
 
Another of Sihanouk's sons, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, spoke in 2002 of his father's artistic gifts and broad interests. 
 
"He has made 21 movies. But not only is my father a filmmaker, but he is a great politician, even unique … and also great French cuisine amateur, great musician, composer. No one can imitate my royal father," he said. 
 
Sihanouk quickly developed into a flamboyant, tough politician whose support came mainly from the people in the provinces. He ruled his kingdom off and on more than 60 years, and was an important symbol for his people, who witnessed one of the most tragic genocidal reigns of the 20th century. 
 
Author and commentator on Cambodia, David Chandler says Sihanouk was a powerful link between ancient traditions and modern times. 
 
"He brought Cambodia into the world, whereas the French had kept it cocooned and isolated for … 90 years ….  But (he) was also … a figure of the old Cambodia," he said. 
 
While Cambodia was still under French rule in 1947, he issued a constitution promising parliamentary government. Cambodia gained partial independence within the French Union in 1949, but Sihanouk campaigned for the total independence that came peacefully in November 1953.
 
Two years later, Sihanouk abdicated the throne to his father, while remaining head of the government. In that position, Sihanouk held a monopoly on power for the next 15 years in what became known as the "Sihanouk Era." 
 
On the world stage, Sihanouk was a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was meant to serve as ballast in the Cold War between the Sino-Soviet bloc and the West.
 
Sihanouk, however, failed to fend off insurrections by both communist rebels and from within his own government. During the Vietnam War, rebels backed by China and other communist governments built strength, and the North Vietnamese army also frequently crossed into Cambodia as they fought the United States. Eventually, he was overthrown. 
 
Carl Thayer, a U.S. expert on Southeast Asia, explains. "He was overthrown when he was overseas begging Moscow and Beijing to stop their support for it (the Vietnam War)," he said. 
 
Stripped of his power, Sihanouk fled to China in 1970 where his agitation against the new government started an internal conflict that paved the way for the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge.
 
After the Khmer Rouge swept into Phnom Penh in early 1975, Sihanouk aligned himself with the radical communists, believing it was a key to power.  But by 1976, he was sidelined and fearing for his life. 
 
The Khmer Rouge fell in early 1979, after Vietnam invaded. But Sihanouk's name was soiled by his association with the movement, which took the lives of almost two million Cambodians.  
 
Cambodia's civil strife continued after Vietnam withdrew its troops in 1989, and in 1991, warring factions agreed to a cease-fire and signed a U.N.-backed peace agreement. 
 
The deal enabled Sihanouk to return to Phnom Penh in 1991 from exile. He regained his throne in 1993, and became a central figure the country's political development over the past decade.  
 
Norodom Sihanouk was one of Southeast Asia's defining leaders during some of the most turbulent years of the 20th century.

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
October 14, 2012 8:23 PM
He was truly a master of playing all sides politically! My experience of living in Cambodia is that the role of the King is just followed now and not even respected, and does not have any role or influence in the lives of Cambodians. Very different from the influence and respect the King of Thailand receives.
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 15, 2012 8:12 AM
You are right. He was a master of playing all sides, but look what it did to his country as a result. And you are right again in comparing the two kings.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs