The 7th Years Anniversary of King Father Norodom Sihanouk

Phnom Penh: Tuesday, 15th of October 2019 today is the 7th Years Anniversary of King Father Norodom Sihanouk passed away of a heart attach at Beijing China. King Norodom Sihanouk, he was born on 31 October 1922 – 15 October 2012 was head of state of Cambodia numerous times. In Cambodia, he is known as Samdech Euv. During his lifetime Cambodia was variously called the French Protectorate of Cambodia (Until 1953), the Kingdom of Cambodia (1953–70), the Khmer Republic (1970–75), Democratic Kampuchea (1975–79), the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979–93), and again the Kingdom of Cambodia (from 1993).

Sihanouk became King of Cambodia in 1941 upon the death of his maternal grandfather, King Monivong. After the Japanese occupation of Cambodia during the Second World War, he secured Cambodian independence from France. He abdicated in 1955 and was succeeded by his father, Suramarit. Sihanouk’s political organization Sangkum won the general elections that year and he became Prime Minister of Cambodia. He governed it under one-party rule, suppressed political dissent, and declared himself Head of State in 1960. Officially neutral in foreign relations, in practice he was closer to the communist bloc.

The Cambodian coup of 1970 ousted him and he fled to China and North Korea, there forming a government-in-exile and resistance movement. He returned as figurehead head of state after the Cambodian Civil War resulted in victory for the Khmer Rouge in 1975. His relations with the government declined and in 1976 he resigned. He was placed under house arrest until Vietnamese forces overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Sihanouk went into exile again and in 1981 formed FUNCINPEC, a resistance party. The following year, he became president of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), a broad coalition of anti-Vietnamese resistance factions which retained Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations, making him Cambodia’s internationally recognized head of state. In the late 1980s, informal talks were carried out to end hostilities between the Vietnam-supported People’s Republic of Kampuchea and the CGDK. In 1990, the Supreme National Council of Cambodia was formed as a transitional body to oversee Cambodia’s sovereign matters, with Sihanouk as its president.

The 1991 Paris Peace Accords were signed and the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was established the following year. The UNTAC organized the 1993 Cambodian general elections, and a coalition government, jointly led by his son Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen, was subsequently formed. He was reinstated as Cambodia’s King. He abdicated again in 2004 and the Royal Council of the Throne chose his son, Sihamoni, as his successor. Sihanouk died in Beijing in 2012.

Between 1941 and 2006, Sihanouk produced and directed 50 films, some of which he acted in. The films, later described as being of low quality, often featured nationalistic elements, as did a number of the songs he wrote. Some of his songs were about his wife Queen Monique, the nations neighboring Cambodia, and the communist leaders who supported him in his exile. In the 1980s Sihanouk held concerts for diplomats in New York City. He also participated in concerts at his palace during his second reign.

Norodom Sihanouk was the only child born of the union between Norodom Suramarit and Sisowath Kossamak. His parents, who heeded the Royal Court Astrologer’s advice that he risked dying at a young age if he was raised under parental care, placed him under the care of Kossamak’s grandmother, Pat. When Pat died, Kossamak brought Sihanouk to live with his paternal grandfather, Norodom Sutharot. Sutharot delegated parenting responsibilities to his daughter, Norodom Ket Kanyamom. Sihanouk received his primary education at the François Baudoin school and Nuon Moniram school in Phnom Penh. During this time, he received financial support from his maternal grandfather, Sisowath Monivong, to head an amateur performance troupe and soccer team. In 1936, Sihanouk was sent to Saigon, where he pursued his secondary education at Lycée Chasseloup Laubat, a boarding school.

When the reigning king Monivong died on 23 April 1941 the Governor-General of French Indochina, Jean Decoux, chose Sihanouk to succeed him. Sihanouk’s appointment as king was formalised the following day by the Cambodian Crown Council, and his coronation ceremony took place on 3 May 1941. During the Japanese occupation of Cambodia, he dedicated most of his time to sports, filming, and the occasional tour to the countryside. In March 1945 the Japanese military, which had occupied Cambodia since August 1941, dissolved the nominal French colonial administration. Under pressure from the Japanese, Sihanouk proclaimed Cambodia’s independence and assumed the position of prime minister while serving as king at the same time. 

As prime minister, Sihanouk revoked a decree issued by the last resident superior of Cambodia, Georges Gautier, to romanise the Khmer alphabet. Following the Surrender of Japan in August 1945, nationalist forces loyal to Son Ngoc Thanh launched a coup, which led to Thanh becoming prime minister. When the French returned to Cambodia in October 1945, Thanh was dismissed and replaced by Sihanouk’s uncle Sisowath Monireth. Monireth negotiated for greater autonomy in managing Cambodia’s internal affairs. A modus vivendi signed in January 1946 granted Cambodia autonomy within the French Union. A joint French-Cambodian commission was set up after that to draft Cambodia’s constitution, and in April 1946 Sihanouk introduced clauses which provided for an elected parliament on the basis of universal male suffrage as well as press freedom. The first constitution was signed into effect by Sihanouk in May 1947. Around this time, Sihanouk made two trips to Saumur, France, where he attended military training at the Armoured Cavalry Branch Training School in 1946, and again in 1948. He was made a reserve captain in the French army. 

In early 1949, Sihanouk traveled to Paris with his parents to negotiate with the French government for more autonomy for Cambodia. The modus vivendi was replaced by a new Franco-Khmer treaty, which recognised Cambodia as “Independent” within the French Union. In practice, the treaty granted only limited self-rule to Cambodia. While Cambodia was given free rein in managing its foreign ministry and, to a lesser extent, its defence, most of the other ministries remained under French control. Meanwhile, dissenting legislators from the national assembly attacked the government led by prime minister Penn Nouth over its failure to resolve deepening financial and corruption problems plaguing the country. The dissenting legislators, led by Yem Sambaur, who had defected from the Democrat party in November 1948, deposed Penn Nouth. Yem Sambaur replaced him, but his appointment did not sit well with the Democrats, who in turn pressured Sihanouk to dissolve the national assembly and hold elections.

Sihanouk, who by now had tired of the political squabbling, dissolved the assembly in September 1949, but opted to rule by decree for the next two years before general elections were held, which the Democrats won. In October 1951, Thanh returned to Cambodia and was received by 100,000 supporters, a spectacle which Sihanouk saw as an affront to his regal authority. Thanh disappeared six months later, presumably to join the Khmer Issarak. Sihanouk ordered the Democrat-led government to arrest Thanh but was ignored. Subsequently, civil demonstrations against the monarchy and the French broke out in the countryside, alarming Sihanouk, who began to suspect that the Democrats were complicit. In June 1952 Sihanouk dismissed the Democrat nominee Huy Kanthoul and made himself prime minister. A few days later, Sihanouk privately confided in exasperation to the US chargé d’affaires, Thomas Gardiner Corcoran, that parliamentary democracy was unsuitable for Cambodia.

In January 1952, Sihanouk re-appointed Penn Nouth as prime minister before leaving for France. Once there, Sihanouk wrote to French President Vincent Auriol requesting that he grant Cambodia full independence, citing widespread anti-French sentiment among the Cambodian populace. Auriol deferred Sihanouk’s request to the French Commissioner for Overseas Territories, Jean Letourneau, who promptly rejected it. Subsequently, Sihanouk traveled to Canada and the United States, where he gave radio interviews to present his case. He took advantage of the prevailing anti-communist sentiment in those countries, arguing that Cambodia faced a Communist threat similar to that of the Viet Minh in Vietnam, and that the solution was to grant full independence to Cambodia. Sihanouk returned to Cambodia in June 1953, taking up residence in Siem Reap. He organised public rallies calling for Cambodians to fight for independence, and formed a citizenry militia which attracted about 130,000 recruits.

In August 1953, France agreed to cede control over judicial and interior affairs to Cambodia, and in October 1953 the defense ministry as well. At the end of October, Sihanouk went to Phnom Penh, where he declared Cambodia’s independence from France on 9 November 1953. In May 1954, Sihanouk sent two of his cabinet ministers, Nhiek Tioulong and Tep Phan, to represent Cambodia at the Geneva Conference. The agreements affirmed Cambodia’s independence and allowed it to seek military aid from any country without restrictions. At the same time, Sihanouk’s relations with the governing Democrat party remained strained, as they were wary of his growing political influence. To counter Democrat opposition, Sihanouk held a national referendum to gauge public approval for his efforts to seek national independence. While the results showed 99.8 percent approval, Australian historian Milton Osborne noted that open balloting was carried out and voters were cowed into casting an approval vote under police surveillance.

Sihanouk’s name is derived from two Sanskrit words “Siha” and “Hanu”, which translates as “Lion” and “Jaws”, respectively, in English. He was fluent in Khmer, French, and English, and also learned Greek and Latin in high school. In his high school days, Sihanouk played soccer, basketball, volleyball, and also took up horse riding. He suffered from diabetes and depression in the 1960s, which flared up again in the late 1970s while living in captivity under the Khmer Rouge. In November 1992, Sihanouk suffered a stroke caused by the thickening of the coronary arteries and blood vessels. In 1993, he was diagnosed with B cell lymphoma in the prostate and was treated with chemotherapy and surgery. Sihanouk’s lymphoma went into remission in 1995, but returned again in 2005 in the gastric region. He suffered a third bout of lymphoma in 2008, and after prolonged treatment it went into remission the following year.

In 1960, Sihanouk built a personal residence at Chamkarmon District where he lived over the next ten years as the Head of State. Following his overthrow in 1970, Sihanouk took up residence in Beijing, where he lived at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in the first year of his stay. In 1971, Sihanouk moved to a larger residence in the city that once housed the French Embassy. The residence was equipped with a temperature-adjustable swimming pool, cinema and seven chefs. In 1974 North Korean leader Kim Il-sung built Changsuwon, a 40-room mansion, for Sihanouk. Changsuwon was built near an artificial lake, and Sihanouk spent time taking boat trips there and also shot a few films within the compound. In August 2008, Sihanouk declared his assets on his website, which according to him consisted of a small house in Siem Reap and 30,000 Euros of cash savings stored in a French bank. He also stated that his residences in Beijing and Pyongyang were guesthouses owned by the governments of China and North Korea, respectively, and that they did not belong to him.

In April 1952 Sihanouk married Paule Monique Izzi, the daughter of Pomme Peang – a Cambodian, and Jean-François Izzi, a French banker of Italian ancestry. Monique became Sihanouk’s lifelong partner; in the 1990s she changed her name to Monineath. Before his marriage to Monique, Sihanouk married five other women: Phat Kanhol, Sisowath Pongsanmoni, Sisowath Monikessan, Mam Manivan Phanivong, and Thavet Norleak. Monikessan died in childbirth in 1946; his marriages to the other four women all ended in divorce. Sihanouk had fourteen children with five different wives. Thavet Norleak bore him no children. During the Khmer Rouge years, five children and fourteen grandchildren disappeared; Sihanouk believed they were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

Photo by: Google & Wikipedia