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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid