Norodom Sihanouk : Maverick Prince of Cambodia

MUMBAI – MAHARASHTRA – INDIA           OCTOBER 17 , 2012           00.30 A.M.

I know that the name Norodom Sihanouk does not ring a familiar bell . Ask so – called Acting Trainers of Mumbai and they will start scratching their heads . Or for that matter ask any Acting Trainers of Bollywood and they will show ignorance . It is one thing to run an Acting School in Mumbai and it is totally another thing to have knowledge of world affairs .

People of my generation , who are not only Acting Trainer , or have just an Acting School in India , know him very well . In spite of being king of  Cambodia , he was known as Prince Norodom Sihanouk . He was a friend of India .

Norodom Sihanouk [ 31 October 1922 – 15 October 2012 ]  was the King of Cambodia from 1941 to 1955 and again from 1993 until 2004. He was the effective ruler of Cambodia from 1953 until 1970. After his second abdication in 2004, he was known as The King-Father of Cambodia , a position in which he retained many of his former responsibilities as constitutional monarch.

King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia

King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The son of King Norodom Suramarit and Queen Sisowath Kossamak, Sihanouk held so many positions since 1941 that the Guinness Book of World Records identifies him as the politician who has served the world’s greatest variety of political offices.These included two terms as king, two as sovereign prince, one as president, two as prime minister, as well as numerous positions as leader of various governments-in-exile. He served as puppet head of state for the Khmer Rouge government in 1975–1976.

English: Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia v...

Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia visiting Communist Romania in 1972 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When his maternal grandfather, King Sisowath Monivong, died on 23 April 1941, the Crown Council selected Prince Sihanouk as King of Cambodia. At that time, colonial Cambodia was part of French Indochina. His coronation took place in September 1941. In March 1945, the Empire of Japan deposed the French colonial administration and took control of French Indochina. Under pressure from the Japanese, Sihanouk proclaimed Cambodia’s independence. Unlike the Vietnamese Emperor Bảo Đại, Sihanouk was careful not to compromise himself too much in collaboration with Japan. The Japanese imposed Son Ngoc Thanh as foreign minister then, in August, as prime minister of Cambodia. After Japan’s surrender, the French gradually retook control of French Indochina: Son Ngoc Thanh was arrested in October 1945, while Sihanouk, considered by the French a valuable ally in the chaotic Indochinese situation, retained his throne.

After World War II and into the early 1950s, King Sihanouk’s aspirations became much more nationalistic and he began demanding independence from the French colonists and their complete departure from Indochina. This echoed the sentiments of the other fledgling nations of French Indochina: the State of Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the Kingdom of Laos. He went into exile in Thailand in May 1953 because of threats on his life by the French and only returned when independence was granted on 9 November 1953. Whilst independent, Cambodia retained an alliance with the French Union, until the end of the First Indochina War and the subsequent official end of French Indochina. On 2 March 1955, Sihanouk abdicated in favor of his father, established the Sangkum and took the post of Prime Minister a few months later, after having obtained an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections on September 1955.

Following his father’s death in 1960, Sihanouk won general election as head of state, but received the title of Prince rather than King. In 1963, he made a change in the constitution that made him head of state for life.

On 18 March 1970, while Sihanouk was out of the country travelling, Prime Minister Lon Nol convened the National Assembly which voted to depose Sihanouk as head of state and gave Lon Nol Emergency powers. Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, Sihanouk’s cousin who had been passed over by the French government in 1941, retained his post as Deputy Prime Minister. The new Khmer Republic was immediately recognized by the United States.

After he was deposed, Sihanouk fled to Beijing, formed the National United Front of Kampuchea and began to support the Khmer Rouge in their struggle to overthrow the Lon Nol government in Phnom Penh. He initiated the Royal Government of the National Union of Kampuchea, which included Khmer Rouge leaders. After Sihanouk showed his support for the Khmer Rouge by visiting them in the field, their ranks swelled from 6,000 to 50,000 fighters. Many of the new recruits for the Khmer Rouge were apolitical peasants who fought in support of the King, not for communism, of which they had a little understanding. King Sihanouk would later argue (1979) that the monarchy being abolished, he was only fighting for his country’s independence, “even if [his] country had to be Communist.” During Lon Nol’s regime, Sihanouk mostly lived in exile in North Korea .

When the Khmer Republic fell to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975, Prince Sihanouk became the symbolic head of state of the new régime while Pol Pot remained in power. Sihanouk, who had imagined living like a retired country gentleman and perhaps being ‘a public relations man for [his] country was to spend the next few years virtually as a hostage of the Khmer Rouge. The next year, on 4 April 1976, the Khmer Rouge forced Sihanouk out of office again and into political retirement. During the Vietnamese invasion, he was sent to New York to speak against Vietnam before The United Nations. After his speech, he sought refuge in China and in North Korea.

The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 ousted the Khmer Rouge. While welcoming the ousting of the Khmer Rouge government, he remained firmly opposed to the Vietnamese-installed Heng Samrin government of People’s Republic of Kampuchea. Although claiming to be wary of the Khmer Rouge , Sihanouk again joined forces with them in order to provide a united front against the Vietnamese occupation. In 1982, he moved completely into opposition of the Vietnam-supported government, becoming President of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), which consisted of his own Armée Nationale Sihanoukiste (ANS), Son Sann’s Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF), and the Khmer Rouge. The Vietnamese withdrew in 1989, leaving behind a pro-Vietnamese government under ex-Khmer Rouge cadre Hun Sen to run the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK).

Peace negotiations between the CGDK and the PRK commenced shortly thereafter and continued until 1991 when all sides agreed to a comprehensive settlement which they signed in Paris. Prince Sihanouk returned once more to Cambodia on 14 November 1991 after thirteen years in exile.

In 1993, Sihanouk once again became King of Cambodia. During the restoration, however, he suffered from ill-health and traveled repeatedly to Beijing for medical treatment.

His Majesty King Sihanouk went into self-imposed exile in January 2004, taking up residence in Pyongyang, North Korea and later in Beijing, People’s Republic of China. Citing reasons of ill-health, he announced his abdication from the throne on 7 October 2004.

The Throne Council met on 14 October and appointed H.R.H. Prince Norodom Sihamoni, one of Sihanouk’s sons, as the new King. The elderly Sihanouk was then proclaimed as His Majesty The King Father of Cambodia .

Sihanouk died after a heart attack in Beijing, China on 15 October 2012, aged 89.

Image of King Norodom Sihanouk at Siem Reap-An...

Image of King Norodom Sihanouk at Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Isn’t it a maze ? Isn’t his life story too complicated ? I am witness to all these happening and used to follow the happenings of Cambodia and her Prince Norodom Sihanouk avidly . I had forgotten him but news of his death brought back old memories of the maverick prince of Cambodia .

I have quoted extensively from Wikipedia because to untangle his life story is not easy , though I know most of the incidents .




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