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

    No More Space Race for US, Rivalry Gives Way to Collaboration

    What began as a struggle for dominance in space between two world powers has changed entirely to one of joint efforts

    Beijing Warns Critics Over South China Sea Dispute

    Official warns critics that the more they challenge China's position regarding disputed territories in one of world’s busiest waterways, the more it will push back

    Move Over Millennials, Here Comes iGeneration

    How the first generation to be born, almost literally, with a smartphone in hand, might change America

    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.
    Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020i
    X
    Ramon Taylor
    May 05, 2016 10:05 PM
    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020

    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Child Labor in Afghanistan Remains a Problem

    With war still raging in Afghanistan, the country also faces the problem of child labor as families put their school-age children to work to help make ends meet. But, thanks to VOA's Afghan Service, two families whose children had been working in a brick-making factory - to earn their livings and pay off family debts - now have a new lease on life. Zabihullah Ghazi reports.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora