Saturday, July 12, 2014

Cambodians Bid Final Farewell to Retired King Sihanouk

Monks attend a ceremony to bid a final farewell to the late retired Cambodian King Sihanouk, July 11, 2014. RFA


Radio Free Asia - July 11, 2014

The ashes of Cambodia’s former king Norodom Sihanouk, who died nearly two years ago, were paraded Friday through the streets of Phnom Penh ahead of their interment on Saturday at the Royal Palace.

Thousands of monks, government officials, students, and villagers in mourning dress attended the religious parade in which three diamond-studded gold and marble urns containing the remains of the revered monarch were borne through the capital in an elaborate procession.

The ashes will be interred on Saturday in a stupa in the Silver Pagoda in the Royal Palace alongside the remains of his favorite daughter Kantha Bopha in line with Sihanouk’s last wish.

“The retired king will stay in peace forever in the stupa,” Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol said.

Sihanouk’s body was cremated in February last year after lying in state for three months. Some of his remains were lowered into the confluence of the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Tonle Bassac rivers in the capital.

Sihanouk's widow Queen Monique, his son the current King Norodom Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his cabinet members, and foreign diplomats attended the final farewell ceremony.

King Sihanouk’s death at the age of 89 in October 2012 after suffering a heart attack at a hospital in Beijing saw an outpouring of grief for the former ruler, who was beloved by his Cambodian subjects. 

'Nationalist'

Koam Chhuon, a 93-year-old villager from Kompong Cham province, traveled hours to the city to bid farewell to Sihanouk.

“I still miss the retired King,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “He was a nationalist and helped his compatriots when he was alive,” he said.

Koam Chhuon said that the retired King allowed him into his palace once to help resolve a land dispute. 

“When I arrived at the palace, he gave us a donation and enough food to eat. I cried when he passed away, and I still cry now.”

Chhoun Sam, 81, who also attended the ceremony, said her husband once served as a guard for the retired King. 

“I will miss him. He loved his country so much. I wish his soul returns to bless us with happiness and makes all the Khmer people be united.” 

Political stalemate

Kem Sokha, the deputy leader of the Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who led the party’s elected lawmakers to the ceremony, expressed the hope that talks to break a political deadlock following the disputed July 2013 general elections would resume soon.

He said Cambodian politicians should follow in the footsteps of the retired king “to bring about national unity and national independence.”

Kem Sokha said he doubted Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was serious in wanting to bring about a political resolution.

“I don’t see the CPP wanting to resume talks. They want to control us inside the National Assembly [parliament],” he said.

The CNRP has boycotted parliament following elections, which it said were rigged.

The government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC) had declared the CPP election winners, dismissing the CNRP’s complaints of poll irregularities.

Two-thirds majority

The CNRP has said that it would not enter parliament unless the NEC members are endorsed by a two-thirds majority in the legislature as part of election reforms.

The NEC, which oversees all elections in the country, currently has its members hand-picked by Hun Sen’s government. Critics have complained it lacks independence. 

The CPP was robbed of its long-running two-third majority in the elections. 

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, who was also at the ceremony, said there was no schedule yet for new talks between the two parties last held on June 12.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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