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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs