October 15, 2012
Cambodia’s His Majesty Samdech Euv passes on
To HRH Prince Norodom Sirivudh, Cambodian Ambassador to Malaysia HRH Princess Norodom Arunrasmy, my other friends and associates in Phnom Penh,
Please accept our sincere condolences on the passing of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk Varman of Cambodia in Beijing this morning.
In your moments of grief, I know you will reflect on His Majesty’s love for his country and his many achievements, trials and tribulations as Prime Minister, Head of State,and King.
May Cambodians continue his legacy and prosper in peace in the years to come. That is the best way to remember His Majesty as Protector and Defender of your proud nation.
I had the pleasure of meeting His Majesty at a private luncheon in honour of departing Malaysian Ambassador Dato Deva Ridzam at the Royal Palace on October 26 (?), 1996. He was a superb host and an excellent conversationalist with a deep understanding of history as he recounted his days under the Khmer Rouge. He also talked about his contemporaries in Cambodia, Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.
His Majesty fondly remembered Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, who he called ” a Mandarin and an Intellectual”. It was because of the Chinese Premier that the Khmer Rouge did not harm him and his Queen Monineath.
I remember that His Majesty was particularly critical of President Richard M. Nixon and Secretary of State, Henry A Kissinger for their secret bombing of Cambodia which led to the rise of extreme nationalism of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s reign of terror. .–Din Merican
Former King Norodom Sihanouk dies
by Ron Sutton (10-15-12)
One of the enduring names of the past seven decades in South-East Asia is gone.Former King and Prime Minister of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk has died just two weeks short of his 90th birthday.Ron Sutton has the story.
“Nobody is capable of wiping them out. They exist.” Norodom Sihanouk was speaking of the Khmer Rouge, but it just as easily could have been others describing his own fingerprints on power in 20th-century Cambodia.
As his personal biographer, Chilean-born Australian Julio Jeldres, once wrote, Sihanouk is Cambodia. The King-Father of Cambodia, as he became known after abdicating as King eight years ago, has died at age 89 in Beijing.
Norodom Sihanouk juggled allegiances and titles so often that the Guinness Book of World Records eventually named him the politician who had held the widest array of offices.
His moves were deeply controversial at times, especially his alliance with the Khmer Rouge, who would go on to rule over the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s. But close followers of regional politics have largely praised the man who would be King twice, Prime Minister 10 times and Head of State twice.
Professor David Chandler, responsible along with Julio Jeldres for a collection of the King’s personal material at Monash University, says his opinion has changed over time.
“There were times that I didn’t admire him very much at all when certain things were happening. But now as I look back on those 70 years, I think, probably, on balance, one has to take — given the circumstances and the choices he had — a more positive view than I might have taken, say, 20 years ago.”
Emeritus Professor Carl Thayer, of the University of New South Wales and the Australian Defence Force Academy, has published work on Cambodia’s tangled politics. He says, after Vietnamese troops withdrew from the country in 1989, the former King played a vital role in negotiations that led to Cambodia’s first democratic elections in 1993.
“Without the role of Norodom Sihanouk, there would have been no peace settlement. He managed to open up the Hun Sen government. So, in other words, he was able to shift very adroitly, diplomatically. And, yes, he could be criticised for some of his alignments, but I mean his motivation was not just to preserve himself, but to preserve the monarchy as a heritage of stability for Cambodia — and that’s still an open question, but the Paris Peace Agreements restored the monarchy — and to keep Cambodia independent and not being dominated by outside powers.”
Norodom Sihanouk’s life of political power began in 1941 after French colonial authorities made him King at age 18. Those seven decades ago, they thought he would be compliant, but he soon began to prove that wrong.
By 1953, he had gained independence for Cambodia, and he soon turned over the throne to his father to pursue a political career.
He would, in all, serve 10 terms as Prime Minister, because he kept abandoning the position in theatric displays of anger, only to return. When his father died in 1960, Norodom Sihanouk settled in as, officially, Head of State, and Cambodia settled into a rare decade of stability.
But in 1970, as the Vietnam War spilled into his country, he lost power in a coup by General Lon Nol and went into exile in Beijing.It was there that he made his most controversial move, aligning himself with the communist guerillas who would emerge as the deadly Khmer Rouge.
Carl Thayer says that decision has to be seen in context.”The context would be that, when he was overthrown in 1970, China brokered an Indochinese front of Lao, Vietnamese and Khmer communists. The Khmer Rouge not only attacked the Lon Nol regime, the right-wing group of militarists that overthrew Sihanouk, but they also began killing his own supporters. So it was difficult for him as to What path do you tread?”
“And aligning with communist Vietnam wasn’t a possibility. So it’s difficult times, and one can find fault with some of the alliances that he’s made, but the Khmer Rouge were just a monstrous force. And he not only survived, he went on, really, in a sense, to broker an agreement that marginalised them. So in the end, when I add up the plusses and minuses, I give a plus side on the ledger.”
Professor Chandler suggests Norodom Sihanouk has to accept some of the blame for the Khmer Rouge connection, though. He suggests that, in a different twist on the biographer Julio Jeldres’s line that Sihanouk is Cambodia, the King and Prime Minister saw it that way to the country’s detriment.
“Having felt that Cambodia was him, he felt, when he was deposed by Lon Nol in the 1970s, that he simply had to come back to power, and the way to come back to power that was given to him, offered to him, was an alliance with a variety of governments and factions, especially the Khmer Rouge. Now he didn’t realise what the Khmer Rouge would be like, but he stayed on with them, I think, rather longer than he should have. He realised where they were going after a while.”
Norodom Sihanouk returned to Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took the capital in 1975 and temporarily remained Head of State.But they forced him to resign the next year and kept him under house arrest in the royal palace.
Five of his children — who numbered at least 13 — died during the genocide that killed well over a million Cambodians by 1979.
After Vietnamese troops and Khmer Rouge defectors ousted the government, he fled to Beijing and stayed there until the negotiated deal with Hun Sen’s government.
He returned to the throne as King until abdicating in 2004, then remained a moral force for Cambodians as he used his personal website to comment on political matters.
Julio Jeldres, his biographer, who had served on his personal staff in the 1980s, told the ABC that Norodom Sihanouk was often misunderstood.
“His ambition in life was to keep his country free, independent, and with its territorial integrity protected, because that was the main concern that he had, that if he didn’t protect the territorial integrity of Cambodia, it was going to be lost to the neighbours as it had happened in the past already. And so that was his main ambition in life was to protect Cambodia and to give a reasonable standard of living to the people.”
Professor Chandler says the former King was a rare example of a long-term leader who did not use his position to gain financially. It is a point that a distant relative in Australia’s Cambodian community, Piphal Engly, says differentiates him from other national heroes or icons, as she puts it.
“Everyone else earned a salary and has a house, has a car, has everything … at least, has a few thousands in his bank. But this King, former King, my former King, has nothing for himself. You know, he doesn’t have a house, doesn’t have money left in the bank. He ate everything on the charity of the country and friends and of the people who provided for and supported him.”