Nordom Sihanouk - History

Nordom Sihanouk - History

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Nordom Sihanouk


Cambodian Royalty

Norodom Sihanouk was born on October 31 1922. He was initially brought up by his grandparents. He went to school in Saigon. He became King in 1941 and fought for Cambodian Independence. He abdicated on behalf of his father in 1955. He became Prime Minister of the country. Upon his fathers death in 1960 he became the Head of State of Cambodia.

After years spent trying to keep his "neutral" country from being swallowed up into the Vietnam conflict, Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk was deposed in 1970 by Lon Nol. When the Khmer Rouge captured the capital in 1975, Sihanouk was briefly returned to power from exile in Beijing. In 1976, he resigned and was placed under house arrest.

Though he became head of Kampuchea's CGDK coalition government in 1982, he resigned repeatedly over the years, moves seen as attempts to enhance his negotiating position with the government.

After the overthrow of the Communist government electinos were held in 1993. Sihanouk was again appointed King. He abdicated in favor of his son in 2004 Norodom Sihamoni who seceded him as King.


Profile: Norodom Sihanouk

“John Foster Dulles had called on me in his capacity as Secretary of State, and he had exhausted every argument to persuade me to place Cambodia under the protection of the South East Asia Treaty Organization. I refused… I considered SEATO an aggressive military alliance directed against neighbors whose ideology I did not share but with whom Cambodia had no quarrel. I had made all this quite clear to John Foster, an acidy, arrogant man, but his brother [CIA Director Allen Dulles] soon turned up with a briefcase full of documents ‘proving’ that Cambodia was about to fall victim to ‘communist aggression’ and that the only way to save the country, the monarchy and myself was to accept the protection of SEATO. The ‘proofs’ did not coincide with my own information, and I replied to Allen Dulles as I had replied to John Foster: Cambodia wanted no part of SEATO. We would look after ourselves as neutrals and Buddhists. There was nothing for the secret service chief to do but pack up his dubious documents and leave.” [Blum, 1995]

Associated Events

Norodom Sihanouk Biography

Norodom Sihanouk was the King of Cambodia from 1941 to 1955 and again from 1993 to 2005. He was the effective ruler of Cambodia from 1953 to 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.

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.

Most of these positions were only honorific, including the last position as constitutional king of Cambodia. Sihanouk's actual period of effective rule over Cambodia was from 9 November 1953, when Cambodia gained its independence from France, until 18 March 1970, when General Lon Nol and the National Assembly deposed him. Source: Wikipedia

Monarchy without a King

Although he was still king when independence came, Sihanouk stepped down as monarch in 1955 in order to play a more active day-to-day role in Cambodian politics. He was succeeded on the throne by his father. The mercurial Sihanouk served a half dozen times as premier in the years 1955-1960, frequently resigning from the post for one reason or another, and became "chief of state" in 1960— shortly after the death of his father, the king. Although Cambodia continued to call itself a monarchy and was led by a former king—Sihanouk—it was the only monarchy in the world without a ruling sovereign.

Sihanouk formed the Popular Socialist Community party after his abdication as a means of preserving his political preeminence. This party won all the seats in the National Assembly vote of 1955 and subsequent elections throughout the 1960s, making Cambodia a one-party state in terms of representation in its government, and Sihanouk the political, if not reigning, king. The outbreak of North Vietnamese-encouraged Communist rebellion on Cambodian soil in 1967, however, indicated that there was at least this kind of opposition to Sihanouk's continued control of Cambodian political life.

For the first decade and a half of Cambodia's resumed independence, Sihanouk symbolized his nation to both his countrymen and the world beyond Cambodia. A devout Buddhist, he also sought to modernize his country's traditional agricultural economy, accepting aid from all quarters (until his termination of United States assistance in 1963). Assuming the posture of an outspoken neutralist in the second half of the 1950s, he tried both to restrict the role of the Great Powers in his country and to block the extension of the Vietnam War to Cambodia—with a surprising degree of success. He visited Peking, and he even recognized the Communist "Provisional Revolutionary Government" (Vietcong) in South Vietnam in 1969.

On March 18, 1970, while Sihanouk was returning from a health cure in France via Moscow, he and his government were overthrown by Lt. Gen. Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak. This pro-Western coup resulted in Sihanouk's forming a government-in-exile in Peking and in the declaration of Cambodia as a republic. At that time he also announced his support of the Cambodian Communist Khmer Rouge under General Pol Pot in their efforts to overthrow Lon Nol.

In 1975 Lon Nol's government was overthrown by the Khmer Rouge and Sihanouk was returned to his position as head of state. In 1976, however, he was placed under house arrest by Pol Pot who assumed control of the government as the country's prime minister. In 1979, the Khmer Rouge government fell when the North Vietnamese invaded and occupied the country. Pol Pot and his allies fled to southwestern Cambodia and engaged in guerilla warfare against the new Vietnamese-backed government, while Sihanouk fled once again into exile in China, where he remained for 12 years. There he formed a coalition government-in-exile composed of royalists, rightists, and the Khmer Rouge. His government-in-exile in China succeeded in gaining a seat at the United Nations as the legitimate government of Cambodia.

In 1989, the Vietnamese withdrew and left behind a pro-Vietnamese government under Prime Minister Hun Sen. Sihanouk and Hun Sen began negotiations for his return. In 1991, Sihanouk returned to Cambodia and became president. He repudiated the Khmer Rouge at that point, denounced them as criminals, and called for the arrest and trial of their leaders. The Khmer Rouge returned to its position of armed opposition. In a U.N.-sponsored election in 1993, Sihanouk's royalist party was elected to power and approved a new constitution that reestabished the monarchy. In September 1993 Sihanouk was again crowned king of Cambodia. He governed with two co-prime ministers, his son Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen.

In 1996 the Khmer Rouge splintered apart. The moderate faction defected to Sihanouk and hard-liners under Pol Pot continued guerilla warfare from the mountain jungles. In June 1997, following a disintegration of leadership in the Khmer Rouge, fighting broke out between forces loyal to the two co-prime ministers. In early July, Norodom Ranariddh was deposed by Hun Sen.

In 1970, the head of state of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, was overthrown by one of his military officers, Lon Nol.

Sihanouk, who had declared Cambodia to be a neutral state, was in Moscow at the time. He then flew to Beijing. In Beijing, Premier Minister Zhou Enlai summoned Vietnamese Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng, and together they convinced Sihanouk to form a government-in-exile and resist Lon Nol.

Sihanouk proceeded to do so, and in the process, he decided to support a group that was also opposed to Lon Nol, the Khmer Rouge.

Nordom Sihanouk - History

By February 1953, Norodom Sihanouk was ready to make his move and consolidate his authority over Cambodia. As part of what he called his "royal crusade for independence" the young king traveled to France and demanded complete Cambodian sovereignty. When the French ignored his requests (to no one's surprise), Sihanouk hit the road, visiting Europe and the United States as part of a brilliant PR campaign. With each stop the king lambasted the French while boasting how he would not make enemies the communist Viet Minh forces. His travels were followed by a self-imposed "exile" near the ancient city of Angkor. The French, who were losing the war with Ho Chi Minh's forces, were in no position to stop Sihanouk antics, so in October they allowed the king to declare Cambodia's independence. France maintained some authority over economic policy, but foreign affairs and the military were now in the hands of Sihanouk.

As Sihanouk's independence movement gained momentum, France suffered its greatest Indochina defeat with the battle of Dien Bien Phu. In the spring of 1954 besieged French troops were decimated in the far northwest of North Vietnam over the course of 55 days of bombardment. Though the Viet Minh lost over 8000 men killed in battle (more than twice that of French killed) Dien Bien Phu proved to be the death knell for France in Indochina - it was only a matter of time before they would be forced to leave forever. The once mighty French empire was soundly humiliated and forced to negotiate full independence with all of its former colonies, including North Vietnam, Laos and Sihanouk's Cambodia.

In what the world hoped would be a final settlement to the Indochina conflict, Geneva played host to peace accords in May 1954, just as the Dien Bien Phu siege was coming to an end. At the July conclusion of the accords, Vietnam was recognized as two separate, sovereign governments: a communist North Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh, and a pro-French South Vietnam led by prime minister Ngo Dinh Diem, who had been appointed by emperor Bao Dai. The Geneva accords also proclaimed that Laos and Cambodia would be guaranteed their right to remain neutral, nonaligned nations. Yet as many in the West prayed the fighting was now over, Sihanouk made no such assumptions. He concluded it would take a strong leader to keep Cambodia out of any future Vietnamese war, and in Cambodia no one was as strong a leader as he.

The Geneva accords also scheduled Cambodia's first national democratic elections. This spelled trouble for Sihanouk, for as a constitutional monarch he would have few real powers in the new democratic government. Following the conclusion of the Geneva accords, King Sihanouk stunned the world and abdicated the throne, giving the crown to his father, Prince Suramarit. By relinquishing his claim to the monarchy, Prince Sihanouk (as he was now known) was free to pursue his political aspirations and run for office. There was a high likelihood of Sihanouk winning the election given his popularity among the masses - his face was one of the only recognizable faces on the ballot for many rural Cambodians. But the prince took no chances: he closed opposition newspapers while his police force roughed up opposition leaders. As Sihanouk told one journalist, "I am the natural leader of the country. and my authority has never been questioned." (Chandler, A History of Cambodia, p 185)

Sihanouk also created his own political movement, Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People's Socialist Community), and made a not-so-subtle hint to the political establishment that any good Cambodian would be proud to join it. If you wanted to become a Sangkum member, though, you were required to dissolve any relationships you had with other parties. The Sangkum was a severe blow to the three major opposition parties, including the so-called Liberals, a conservative group made up of landowners and business leaders the Democrats, left-wing activists who supported a modern, French-style republic and the Pracheachon, a pro-communist party made up of monks, teachers, and French-educated intellectuals. Many Cambodians, especially the Liberals and Democrats, quickly joined the Sangkum, abandoning their former parties in the fear of appearing to be against this burgeoning national movement. Even Khieu Samphan, the scholarly communist student who studied in Paris, joined the Sangkum in order to increase his political profile and personal security privately, though, he remained a steadfast communist.

In 1955, Prince Sihanouk was elected the Cambodian head of state. Some opposition leaders maintained a precarious grip on power through their positions in the national assembly, but Sihanouk did his best to intimidate and humiliate all of them. The prince would often employ the tactic of making rousing speeches to the assembly, whose majority was loyal to him, and then present the minority opposition members with an offer to lead Cambodia if they thought they could do a better job than he. No one ever dared to take him up on the offer. On some occasions these assembly sessions reached such a fever pitch the opposition were beaten up by mobs afterwards. By 1963, Sihanouk's overwhelming authority and strong-arm tactics had purged much of the opposition out of politics, causing some of the Pracheachon politicians and their communist supporters to flee for their lives into the Cambodian wilderness. Among these exiles were Son Sen, Ieng Sary and Saloth Sar, who had returned to Cambodia from France to become active members of a secretive communist movement initially supported by North Vietnam. Though none of the three men openly participated in public politics, they feared their subversive communist activities had been compromised when their names were published on a list of "34 subversives" compiled by the Sihanouk government. The three soon escaped into the wilderness of eastern Cambodia and vanished. Sihanouk was glad to be rid of these oppositionist troublemakers, whom he later labeled rather mockingly as "Red Khmers" - or in French, les Khmer Rouges.

Sihanouk ruled with an iron hand, but he delegated powers to his loyal ministers so he could concentrate on his favorite hobbies, including jazz saxophone, filmmaking, magazine editing, and having affairs with foreign women. Yet the Cambodians of the countryside loved him - the god-kings of Angkor weighed heavily in the collective social conscience. For the foreseeable future Sihanouk was invincible and he knew it. Not unlike the other peoples of Southeast Asia, Cambodians were long accustomed to singular, autocratic leadership. As Frances FitzGerald described in her Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam narrative Fire in the Lake, many rural Southeast Asian peoples traditionally saw their leaders as having a "mandate from heaven." These leaders would have the loyalty of the people until someone powerful could come along and knock off the old leader decisively, thus demonstrating that the mandate from heaven had shifted to themselves. From 1955 to 1970, Prince Norodom Sihanouk was the only viable leader in Cambodia. He was also the only man whose political ruthlessness could manage to keep Cambodia out of the coming war that would ravage Vietnam and Laos. Cambodia was at peace, and for the moment, Sihanouk maintained his mandate from Heaven.

My War with the CIA
The Memoirs of Prince Norodom Sihanouk as related to Wilfred Burchett
Pantheon Books, 1972, 1973

War and Hope: The Case for Cambodia
Norodom Sihanouk
Pantheon Books, 1980

For more than half a century, King Norodom Sihanouk has preened, postured, and pouted across the stage of Cambodian politics. He is perpetually described as "mercurial" and "unpredictable." For years he was central to Cambodia's survival. And he was just as surely central to her near-destruction.

To give him due credit: It is beyond question that Sihanouk deeply loved the Cambodian people. None of his successors has ever matched his genuine affection for his people. But Sihanouk had one critical flaw: as much as he loved the Cambodian people, he loved himself just slightly more. At a pivotal moment in Cambodian history, he chose his own interests above those of Cambodia, and millions of people paid with their lives.

Born on October 31, 1922, Norodom Sihanouk was appointed to the Cambodian throne by the country's French colonial masters at the age of 18. The French probably chose Sihanouk for at least two reasons: first, he was descended from both of Cambodia's two competing royal families and second, they believed that the young playboy would be easily manipulated. This second belief turned out to be very wrong: Sihanouk quickly demonstrated surprising political savvy, and by 1953 he had skillfully orchestrated his country's independence from France. In 1955, he shrewdly abdicated in favor of his father, then ran for the office of Prime Minister as the head of his own political party. Against the backdrop of a widening war in Indochina, Sihanouk remained the unquestioned leader of the country for the next fifteen years. In 1970, however, Sihanouk was overthrown in a coup led by two of his lieutenants, General Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak.

It is hard to imagine how different history might have been if Sihanouk had responded differently to the coup. Perhaps it would not have mattered perhaps the forces at war in Indochina would have devastated Cambodia, with or without Sihanouk. But we will never know, for at that critical moment, Sihanouk chose to support the Khmer Rouge. Sihanouk's support was the engine that sparked the explosive growth of the Khmer Rouge. And it would be the Khmer Rouge who would drive Cambodia to the brink of annhilation.

Sihanouk wrote two books which allow us to glimpse history from his perspective. Both books are flawed and sometimes frustrating, but they are worth reading nonetheless.

My War with the CIA is Sihanouk's first memoir. It is essentially a propaganda tract. At times, Sihanouk's disingenuousness is almost embarrassingly transparent, as when he refers to the repression of the left during his own regime as the work of "Lon Nol's raiding expeditions." He is similarly unconvincing when he attempts to explain away his public statements regarding the leftists: "To throw my own dissenters - rightists such as Lon Nol - off the track, I occasionally made speeches attacking the Vietminh, Vietcong and Khmers Rouges. The first two realized that the main thing was my unswerving political, diplomatic and material support of their resistance struggle. But I did not know at the time that the Khmers Rouges had also understood this. The proof was their immediate acceptance of the alliance for resistance in 1970."

Clearly, the real reason the Khmer Rouge immediately accepted his "alliance" was that they, like the Prince, understood the value of a marriage of expediancy. The Prince's name gave their movement a legitimacy that it would otherwise have lacked.

Still, although My War is very obviously a book with an agenda, there are times when Sihanouk's comments seem precisely on-target, as when he discusses Richard Nixon's comments on the invasion of Cambodia:

"President Nixon has explained that the 341 million dollars spent annually in the officially-approved slaughter of Cambodians is 'the best investment in foreign assistance that the United States has made in my political life'. Because of the 'success' of the Cambodian operation, 'US casualties have been cut by two thirds, a hundred thousand Americans have come home and more are doing so'. In other words, Lon Nol and Sirik Matak, by allowing Nixon to export the fighting from South Vietnam to Cambodia - to substitute Cambodian for American and South Vietnamese corpses - have rendered a valuable service, for which 341 million dollars is a reasonable annual reimbursement!"

Sihanouk goes on to quote George McGovern's rather astute assessment of the so-called "Nixon Doctrine": "We pay them for killing each other while we reduce our own forces."

From time to time there are telling glimpses into Sihanouk's true beliefs. Sihanouk notes that during the early Fifties he feared that "the Vietminh were fighting only to replace the French as masters in Cambodia." Having aligned himself with the Communists at the time of the book's publication, he naturally disavows this belief. That fear that would resurface in his second book.

There is disappointingly little of the Prince's personality in the bland prose of this book. It is as though the the demands of ideology have smothered his very spirit. There is, however, one very memorable passage, in which the Prince relates an incident during the ceremony which marked the Cambodia's independence from the French:

"When it came to the formal handing-over of powers, it was with my respected former cavalry instructor, General de Langlade, that I had to deal.

'Sire,' he said, 'You have whipped me.'

'Mon general, it is not true,' I replied. 'But I had to show myself worthy of General de Langlade's education. My success is yours, as it is you who taught me what I know of military science.'

'You are not very kind to your professor,' he continued.

'Mon general,' I said, 'I had to prove myself, as one of your pupils. I could not lose so vital a battle, with my country at stake.'

On the eve of the French departure, one of his staff officers whispered to de Langlade: 'The King is mad! He expels us from Cambodia, but without us he will be crushed by the Vietminh!'

De Langlade turned to him and other officers and replied: 'Gentlemen, the King may be mad, but it is a brilliant sort of madness!'"

Brilliant madness: a wily monarch, tragically flawed. An undercurrent of Sihanouk's critical failing - his vanity - shows through on many occasions. One comes away from My War with the sense that Sihanouk was obsessed with his own stature. Again and again he rails against "humiliating discourtesies" (p. 86), "bad manners" (p.87), "humiliations that had lasted so long" (p. 128), "shame and frustration" (p. 129), "being punished, humiliated, and prepared for the chopping block" (p. 130), "national humiliation" (p.133), "indignities and humiliations" (p. 148), "the humiliation" (p. 222) "We have suffered too much we have been humiliated too long." (p. 234).

With the disastrous reign of the Khmer Rouge long ago relegated to "the ash heap of history", it is almost painful to review the book's final chapter. Its title is "The Future," and it outlines the supposed future policies of rebel regime. To read these words today is to feel a horrible sadness. One can only imagine how it must feel to be the person who wrote them.

"In its relations with the outside world, Cambodia will thus remain much as it was before friendly with all countries that respect our independence and sovereignty.

"Our internal policy will be socialist and progressive, but not communist. State, state-private, and private enterprise will coexist. "

"I do not know about Europe, with its own traditions and concepts, but I feel that, for Asia, the commune is a real discovery. "

These and other similar statements leave the reader longing for the safety of the old, familiar delusions about the utopian future. The true nature of Khmer Rouge policies - the xenophobia, the extremism, the labor brigades, the executions, the starvation - would soon be beyond dispute.

In My War Sihanouk reminds us of a statement that he made in 1955, at the time of his abdication: "I categorically refuse to return to the throne no matter what the turn of events." This statement, like so many of Sihanouk's pronouncements, would be reversed by time and fate and whim. What the Khmer Rouge called "the Wheel of History" would soon crush Lon Nol. Then, just as surely, it crushed the Khmer Rouge as well. And yet Sihanouk himself somehow escaped. Effectively imprisoned in his palace throughout most the the Khmer Rouge reign, Sihanouk was spirited out of the country just ahead of the Vietnamese invasion. Written in the aftermath of disaster, Sihanouk's second memoir, War and Hope: The Case for Cambodia bears little resemblence to its predecessor. By 1979, when the book was written, Cambodia was in ruins.

It would be a stretch to describe War and Hope as a completely honest memoir, but it is at least more realistic than the volume that preceeded it. One wonders if Sihanouk's experience with the Khmer Rouge left him somewhat chastized. It's doubtful if he ever believed the Khmer Rouge propaganda about their aims, and with the benefit of hindsight he seems to have come to understand the futility of his earlier charade. "Time will inevitably uncover dishonesty and lies history has no place for them," he writes.

It is in the name of this honesty that Sihanouk discusses the role of the Vietnamese in fighting the Lon Nol regime. The Vietnamese, he notes, were the architects of some of the most spectacular acts of sabotage that crippled the Khmer Republic: the destruction of much of Pochentong airport, the oil refinery at Kompong Som, and the Chroy Chungwa bridge in Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge, by contrast, had no effective artillery at all they relied heavily on rockets, and "they did not hit one of their military objectives. Instead, residential neighborhoods of no military interest were bombed, markets and schools were destroyed, children and innocent adults were killed or hideously wounded - all for nothing." Still, Sihanouk notes, the Khmer Rouge did in fact assemble a fierce and formidable army. He notes in particular their use of children, ideal fodder for the Khmer Rouge, given the relative ease with which they could be indoctrinated. These young soldiers, Sihanouk claims, were trained in "cruel games" with the goal that "they would end up as soldiers with a love of killing and consequently of war. During the three years I spent with the Khmer Rouge under house arrest in Phnom Penh, I saw the yotheas in charge of guarding my 'camp' constantly take pleasure in tormenting animals (dogs, cats, monkeys, geckos)."

Sihanouk's analyses of the factors that determined the outcome of the civil war seems generally accurate, but there is one notable omission. In a chapter called "Why Did the U.S. Lose the War in Cambodia?" Sihanouk elaborates several reasons, among them: the US underestimated support for Sihanouk himself, and underestimated the determination of the Vietnamese to maintain a presence in Cambodia they underestimated the effects of corruption in the Lon Nol regime and the US overestimated the effectiveness of the bombing campaign. But Sihanouk does not mention what is arguably one of the most important reasons for Lon Nol's defeat: sheer American indifference. The fate of Cambodia was always a secondary concern to US policymakers. Vietnam was the real arena. Behind most American decisions, one senses that the real question was not, "How will this affect our allies in Cambodia?" but rather "How will this affect our ability to get out of Vietnam?" It is doubtful that any US action - even a massive US ground force - could have altered the outcome once the full fury of Cambodia's civil war had been unleashed. But American indifference to the fate of the Cambodians made it a foregone conclusion that no dramatic initiatives would ever be undertaken.

At times, Sihanouk demonstrates a very convenient blindness. Or perhaps he is demonstrating pragmatism. One notes that Sihanouk compares Pol Pot and Ieng Sary to Hitler and Goebbels. but never to Mao, which would be a much more accurate comparison. Perhaps this is recognition of the fact that Cambodia in 1979 needed the Chinese if they were to avoid being swallowed whole by Vietnam.

This, in fact, is one factor that distinguished Sihanouk from Lon Nol and Pol Pot. Only Sihanouk seemed to view the Vietnamese realistically. Both Lon Nol and Pol Pot believed that they could, if necessary, physcially overpower the more numerous, better-armed Vietnamese. It was an absurd belief, and it doomed both regimes.

For his own part, Sihanouk notes that during his rule he ". closed his eyes to the installation of Viet 'rest camps,' hospitals, provision centers in Cambodia. Secondly, he authorized the Chinese, Russians, Czechoslovakians, etc., to use the port of Sihanoukville (Kompong Som) as an unloading point for the military and other supplies to the Vietminh and Vietcong." It was all part of the delicate balancing act: Sihanouk himself may not have liked the communists, but he believed that they were destined to win the war in Vietnam, and when the war was over, it would be better to be regarded as an ally, rather than an enemy.

Such pragmatisim was entirely alien to the Khmer Rouge. They had unquestioning faith in their own destiny. The doctrinaire belief that sheer will would overcome lack of education and training, for instance, sometimes led to surreal incidents. Sihanouk notes in particular an anecdote relating to American helicopters that the Khmer Rouge had inherited:

"Shortly after the April, 1975 victory, the Khmer Rouge army decided to try out a few of the American helicopters Lon Nol had abandoned in Phnom Penh. They reasoned that if they had been able to teach themselves to drive, they would be able to figure out helicopters, too. A group of young yotheas told Mmd. Penn Nouth (wife of the former GRUNK Prime Minister) that one mechanically gifted comrade of theirs had indeed been able to get a helicopter off the ground, but he could not manage to land it. The would-be pilot finally met a far-from-heroic death when his craft ran out of fuel and crashed.

After this bizarre accident, the high command was forced to call on Capt. Pech Lim Khuon, a former pilot in Lon Nol's army who had joined the resistance movement at the beginning of the 1970-1975 war. The captain had no trouble getting airborne, and proceeded to make a happy landing in Thailand. He was subsequently granted asylum in France."

Sihanouk cites other interesting examples of the twisted world view of the Khmer Rouge. Khieu Samphan was fond of telling Sihanouk that the North Koreans were on "the wrong track". "'Now," Samphan told Sihanouk, "'the North Koreans have fine houses and cars, nice cities. The people are too attached to their new life.' he said. 'They will never want to start or even fight in a new war, their only hope of liberating South Korea and reuniting their country.'" Even more telling was Samphan's reaction to advice from the ailing Zhou Enlai, who advised the Khieu Samphan not to try to achieve Communism too quickly:

"The great Chinese statesman counseled the Khmer Rouge leaders: 'Don't follow the bad example of our "great leap forward." Take things slowly: that is the best way to guide Kampuchea and its people to growth, prosperity, and happiness.' By way of response to this splendid and moving piece of almost fatherly advice, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith just smiled an incredulous and superior smile.

"Not long after we got back to Phnom Penh, Khieu Samphan and Son Sen told me that their Kampuchea was going to show the world that pure communism could indeed be achieved at one fell swoop. This was no doubt their indirect reply to Zhou Enlai. 'Our country's place in history will be assured,' they said. 'We will be the first nation to create a completely communist society without wasting time on intermediate steps.'"

Still, the Khmer Rouge belief in the the communist cause did not create any fraternal affection for their Vietnamese communist neighbors. The Vietnamese were scorned with a hatred previously reserved for the Americans. Sihanouk asked Khieu Samphan to explain the Khmer Rouge's hatred of Vietnam. "He unabashedly told me that 'to unite our compatriots through the party, to bring our workers up to their highest level of productivity, and to make the yotheas' ardor and valor in combat even greater, the best thing we could do was to incite them to hate the Yuons more and more every day.' Khieu Samphan added: 'Our bang-phaaun [literally, older and younger brothers and sisters] are willing to make any sacrifice the minute we wave the 'Hate Vietnam' flag in front of them.'"

Samphan was wrong. However much the Khmer mistrusted and despised the Vietnamese, they hated the Khmer Rouge even more. The anti-Viet stance of the Khmer Rouge did not increase the regime's popularity instead, it set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy. Goaded by a series of brutal border attacks, the Vietnamese finally invaded Cambodia, toppled the Khmer Rouge, and installed their own puppet government. The Khmer Rouge retreated into the mountains, where they continued to wage a guerrilla struggle against the Vietnamese.

After the Vietnamese invasion, many activists denounced the role of the Thais in "resurrecting" the battered remnants of the Khmer Rouge. Discussing his meetings with Deng Xiaoping in 1979, Sihanouk addresses this issue, with what seems like ambivelence: "It remained to be seen how China would make arms shipments to Pol Pot's guerrilla fighters. Deng told me it was 'no problem, Thailand is helping us.' When I asked Thailand's leaders about this, they called me a liar and said I was trying to compromise Thailand's 'strict neutrality' in the Vietnam-Kampuchea dispute. My guess is that the whole matter will be settled privately, without the Thai government being implicated. "

Still, despite his anger and fear over the Vietnamese invasion of his country, Sihanouk gives them their due: "History may judge me as it sees fit for asserting that no matter how distasteful and humiliating we Khmer find the current Vietnamese presence in our country, it is the people's only protection against being massacred by the Khmer Rouge (and inadequate protection at that)."

At the time the book was published, a few meager forces had taken up the royalist banner, vowing to fight the Vietnamese occupation. They were no match for the Vietnamese, and Sihanouk quickly came under pressure to align his forces in a coalition to fight against the Vietnamese. In War and Hope he describes this proposal as "tantamount to putting a starving and bloodthirsty wolf in with a lamb." But here, too, the Prince would later reverse himself, and he ultimately joined an uneasy triumvirate with the Khmer Rouge and another faction led by Son Sann.

With a keen understanding of the difficult decisions faced by the Khmer, Sihanouk reserves his highest praise not for his comrades-in-arms, but for those displaced by the continuing conflicts: "The common people of Cambodia have given us a magnificent example of farsightedness and genuine patriotism: they go along neither with the Khmer Rouge nor the outsiders. They prefer to flee to Thailand, exposing themselves to the greatest dangers in the process, or else hide deep in Cambodia's forests, risking death from starvation, sickness, snakebite - or being eaten by tigers and wolves. That is what I call real courage and patriotism."

Surrounded by warring combatants, at risk from death and disease: in a sense, the choices faced by the Khmer people were akin to the choices faced by the country itself. Whatever one's opinion of Sihanouk, one must recognize this: By 1970, in a game of global politics, Cambodia was dealt an almost impossible hand. Bordered by stronger, hostile neighbors, trod upon by an uncaring superpower, violated by foreign armies, mired in poverty. There were no good options: there were only differing degrees of bad ones.


Sihanouk received his primary education in a Phnom Penh primary school. He pursued his secondary education in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam at "Lycée Chasseloup Laubat" until his coronation and then later attended Cavalry military school in Saumur, France. 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.

King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia

Norodom Sihanouk reigned as King of Cambodia during two periods, 1941 – 1955 and 1993 – 2004. During his lifetime, Cambodia was the French Protectorate of Cambodia (until 1953), the Kingdom of Cambodia (1953 – 1970), the Khmer Republic (1970 – 1975), Democratic Kampuchea (1975 – 1979), the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979 -1993), and again the Kingdom of Cambodia (from 1993). Norodom Sihanouk also served as Prime Minister of Cambodia eight times between 1945 – 1962, Chief of State of Cambodia (1960 – 1970 and in 1993) and as President of the State Presidium of Democratic Kampuchea (1975 – 1976).

Note: In Cambodian naming practices, the surname comes first. The king’s surname is Norodom and his first name is Sihanouk, so he will be referred to as Sihanouk in the rest of the article.

Norodom Sihanouk was born on October 31, 1922, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, then in French Indochina. He was the only child of Norodom Suramarit, King of Cambodia from 1955 – 1960 and Princess Sisowath Kossamak of Cambodia, daughter of King Sisowath Monivong of Cambodia and his wife Prince Norodom Kanviman Norleak Tevi.

Sihanouk had three half-siblings from his father’s third marriage to Kim-An Yeap (Khun Devi Kanha Subiya Yeap):

    (1946 – 2013), married (1) Tep Sombana, no children, divorced (2) Yves Dumont, had one son (born 1951), married (1) Keo Kosey, had one son, divorced (2) Christine Angèle Alfsen, one son and two daughters, divorced (3) Princess Norodom Norodom Veasna Diva of Cambodia
  • Prince Norodom Preyasophon (born 1954), married Princess Vinayika Sisowath Vinak of Cambodia, had one son and one daughter

Sihanouk received his primary education at François Baudoin School and Nuon Moniram School in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 1936, Sihanouk was sent to Saigon, French Indochina, now Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for his secondary education at Lycée Chasseloup Laubat.

King Norodom Sihanouk in his coronation regalia Credit – Wikipedia

On April 23, 1941, King Sisowath Monivong of Cambodia, Sihanouk’s maternal grandfather died. At the time, Cambodia was still a French protectorate and the French originally wanted Sihanouk’s father Norodom Suramarit to succeed him. However, Sisowath Monil, the son of King Sisowath Monivong, believed that he was the legal heir to the throne. The two royal families of Cambodia, the House of Norodom and the House of Sisowath, quarreled over the right to the throne. Finally, Jean Decoux, Governor-General of French Indochina, chose Suramarit’s 18-year-old son Norodom Sihanouk to be King of Cambodia because he was descended from both royal families. Sihanouk’s appointment as king was formalized by the Cambodian Crown Council and his coronation ceremony took place on May 13, 1941.

During World War II, Japan occupied Cambodia. After the end of the war, Sihanouk worked to gain Cambodia’s independence from France which was achieved in 1953. Sihanouk decided to abdicate in 1955 so he could directly participate in politics. He reverted to the title of Prince and was succeeded by his father Norodom Suramarit as King of Cambodia. Sihanouk’s political party Sangkum won the general elections in 1955 and he became Prime Minister of Cambodia.

Sihanouk was ousted by the Cambodian Coup of 1970. He fled to China and North Korea and formed a government-in-exile and resistance movement. He encouraged Cambodians to fight the new government and backed the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Civil War. Khmer Rouge was the name that was given to members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. Kampuchea was name Cambodia was known from 1975 – 1990. The Khmer Rouge regime was highly autocratic, totalitarian, xenophobic, paranoid, and repressive. During the regime, hundreds of thousands of political opponents of the Khmer Rouge were murdered and its racist emphasis on national purity resulted in the genocide of Cambodian minorities. In 1975, after the Khmer Rouge’s victory, Sihanouk returned to Cambodia as a figurehead head of state. His relations with the new government declined and in 1976 he resigned. Sihanouk was placed under house arrest until the Vietnamese forces overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and the People’s Republic of Kampuchea was formed.

Sihanouk once again went into exile and founded the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia, a royalist political party in Cambodia. After a long period of work and negotiations, 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 Sihanouk’s son Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen, was formed. A new constitution came into effect on September 24, 1993, and Sihanouk was reinstated as the King of Cambodia.

Embed from Getty Images Norodom Sihanouk and his sixth wife Princess Monique in 1973

Sihanouk was married six times and had fourteen children. During the Khmer Rouge years, one of his wives, five of his children, and fourteen of his grandchildren disappeared. It is believed they were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

Wife 1: Phat Kanhol (1920 – 1969): A performer with the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, she married Sihanouk in 1941 and had one son and one daughter. Because of her background, the marriage was not recognized by the royal family. Under pressure from his grandfather, Sihanouk divorced Phat Kanhol in 1943. She remarried in 1944.

Wife 2: Princess Sisowath Pongsanmoni (1929 – 1974): The daughter of King Monivong, she married Sihanouk in 1941 and had four sons and three daughters. The marriage ended in divorce in 1951 and she remarried a lieutenant colonel.

    (born 1943), had two wives and six children
  • Norodom Ravivong (1944 – 1973), died from malaria (born 1945), had seven wives and thirteen children
  • Norodom Sorya Roeungsi (1947 – 1976), disappeared under Khmer Rouge regime
  • Norodom Kantha Bopha (1948 – 1952), died from leukemia
  • Norodom Khemanourak (1949 – 1975), disappeared under Khmer Rouge regime
  • Norodom Botum Bopha (1951 – 1975), disappeared under Khmer Rouge regime

Wife 3: Princess Sisowath Monikessan (1929 – 1946): The daughter of King Monivong, she married Sihanouk in 1944. After giving birth to a son in 1946, she died from childbirth complications

Wife 4: Mam Manivan Phanivong (1934 -1975): She met Sihanouk at a dance party in Vientiane, Laos and they married in 1949 and had two daughters. After the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in 1975, Mam and her elder daughter disappeared and were most likely killed by the Khmer Rouge.

  • Princess Norodom Sujata (1953 – 1975), disappeared under Khmer Rouge regime (born 1955), had two husbands and five children

Wife 5: Princess Norodom Thavet Norleak (1927 – 2019): Sihanouk’s aunt and cousin, she married him in 1955 and became the official First Lady of Cambodia. They had no children and divorced in 1968.

Queen Mother Norodom Monineath and her son King Norodom Sihamoni in 2013 Credit – Wikipedia

Wife: Norodom Monineath (born 1936): She was born Paule-Monique Izzi, the daughter of a French banker and a Cambodian woman. Sihanouk privately married her in 1952 and an official marriage took place in 1955. First known as Princess Monique, she took the name Monineath a fter Sihanouk divorced Norodom Thavet Norleak in 1968. After the abdication of her husband in 2012 and the accession of her son as King of Cambodia, she was styled Queen Mother of Cambodia.

Citing his poor health, Sihanouk announced his second abdication in October 2004. Unlike most monarchies, the succession to the Cambodian throne is not hereditary. The monarch is elected for life by the Royal Council of the Throne, made up of members of the royal family, government officials, and religious figures. Upon his Sihanouk’s abdication, his son Norodom Sihamoni was unanimously elected as the next King of Cambodia on October 14, 2004. After his second abdication, Sihanouk became known as the King Father of Cambodia.

In August 2009, Sihanouk stated that he would stop posting messages on his website as he was getting old, making it difficult for him to keep up with his duties. From 2009 – 2011, 1Sihanouk spent most of his time in Beijing, China for treatment of colon cancer, diabetes, and hypertension. He returned to Cambodia in 2011 and made his last public appearance on October 30, 2011, celebrating his 89th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords. Although Sihanouk intended to remain in Cambodia, he returned to Beijing in January 2012 on the advice of his Chinese doctors. A few months, later Sihanouk said he would not return to Cambodia for his 90th birthday. On October 15, 2012, Sihanouk died of a heart attack in Beijing, sixteen days before his 90th birthday.

Embed from Getty Images King Norodom Sihamoni son of the late former King Norodom Sihanouk, and his mother, Queen Norodom Monineath grieve during the cremation ceremony on February 4, 2013

Sihanouk’s body was transported back to Cambodia on an Air China flight. 1.2 million people lined the streets of Phnom Penh between the airport and the palace. Sihanouk’s funeral and cremation were scheduled for February 2013. His body lay in state at the royal palace until February 1, 2013, when it was taken to the royal crematorium. Many foreign dignitaries gathered in Phnom Penh for the funeral and the cremation. On February 4, 2013, Sihanouk’s body was cremated. The next day, the royal family scattered some of Sihanouk’s ashes into the Tonlé Sap, a freshwater lake and an attached river that connects the lake to the Mekong River. The remainder of the ashes were kept in the palace’s throne room until July 2014, when Sihanouk’s ashes were interred at the in a stupa at the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, next to the ashes of his daughter Princess Kantha Bopha who had died in 1952 when she was four-years-old from leukemia.

Stupa of Princess Kantha Bopha where the ashes of her father King Norodom Sihanouk were interred Credit – By Engsamnang – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Watch the video: HM King Father-NORODOM SIHANOUK Biography Part1


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