As Jan 7 Nears, Retired King Tells of Phnom Penh’s ‘Liberation’

Holed up in a Phnom Penh residence in late December 1978, then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk heard a crackling, short-wave radio broadcast: Vietnamese “combat operations” in Cambodia had begun.

“My Son (the future King) N Sihamoni and I exchanged in silence a broad smile of hope and joy for the birth and rise of the Liberation FRONT presided over by HE HENG SAMRIN,” the re-tired King wrote in a message da-ted Dec 25, the 28th anniversary of the day the offensive began.

Vietnam’s lightning military victory over Khmer Rouge forces in the opening days of January 1979 have been on the retired King’s mind in the days leading up to Sun-day’s 28th anniversary of the taking of Phnom Penh.

In a series of messages totaling nine handwritten pages and dated between Dec 25 and Dec 27, the last of which was posted to his Web site Monday, Norodom Sihanouk recounted his secret joy at the looming demise of the Khmer Rouge, a UN address given in New York and his sanctuary in China.

The letters recount how late one evening after the Vietnamese offensive had begun, a handsome limousine arrived to take the prince to a three-hour meeting with Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge Foreign Min-ister Ieng Sary.

While members of the Royal family feared for his safety, the prince was surprised to find that Pol Pot folded his hands into a “sampheah,” the traditional Khmer greeting, and offered a slight genuflection on his arrival.

“With much amiability,” Pol Pot sought to ask Prince Sihanouk to defend the regime at the UN Se-curity Council in New York.

“Surprise!” wrote the retired King of Pol Pot’s pleasant disposition at that time.

“So the great and sinister POL POT was not a stranger to me. He was the smiling and ‘kind’ Saloth Sar, met in 1973 and one of my ‘traveling companions’ in the liberated zones of Kampuchea!”

In the Dec 26 sequel to his first message, Norodom Sihanouk wrote: “In 1973, I was able to ob-serve in the liberated zones of our country that Saloth Sar, the future Pol Pot, could make, clear, ‘logical’ arguments.”

“Additionally, he could be ‘seductive’ as a ‘pretty talker.’”

However, the Pol Pot encountered five years later as his regime tottered was not as benign.

“We are far from being beaten by these ‘Yuons’ (Vietnamese),” Norodom Sihanouk quoted Pol Pot as saying.

“But our Kampuchea shall never be at peace so long as we Kam-pucheans have not succeeded in exterminating this cursed Yuon race.”

Pol Pot explained his latest ruse to bring this about, the retired King wrote.

“I am luring them to us…by making them believe they are militarily victorious,” Pol Pot said. “Once they are in Democratic Kampu-chea, we Kampuchean men and women will cut them into little pieces (sic!). We will slice them (sic!).”

The slaughter was to be followed by an invasion of Vietnam “in order to kill women and their children (boys, girls and babies),” the retired King recounted, adding that he reacted with poise.

“While ‘drinking’ POL POT’s words, I drank more than ten glasses of Pursat orange juice, that fresh, naturally sweet and so delicious juice of which I had been dreaming for more than three years!” Noro-dom Sihanouk wrote.

With the Vietnamese quickly approaching the capital, the succession of events grew quicker, Noro-dom Sihanouk wrote in the final installment.

The sounds of battle reached the former Phnom Penh residence of one of the prince’s late aunts, where the Khmer Rouge had mov-ed him after the Vietnamese began their attack.

“The window panes in ‘my’ house ‘trembled’ with each cannon blast fired by the Khmer Rouge artillery against the Viets and with each cannon blast fired by the North Vietnamese on the last line of defense in the P Penh of the Khmer Rouge’s (not even a little) Democratic Kampuchea.”

After arriving in Beijing, en route for New York, the prince learned that the Vietnamese had taken Phnom Penh from “a high-ranking Chinese government functionary,” he added.

“At the UN Security Council, I gave a Speech asking the Council formally to condemn this ‘aggression,’ this Viet ‘invasion,’ of an independent, neutral, non-aligned and ‘pacifist,’ Cambodia,” the retired King wrote, adding that he was roundly denounced by Soviet bloc diplomats.

His mission accomplished, Norodom Sihanouk said that he promptly sought political asylum.

“While refusing me political asylum, the USA housed and generously fed me (and my wife) in a luxury hotel,” he wrote, adding that US officials offered to continue this indefinitely if he chose to stay.

“The French government granted me [asylum]… on condition that I avoid politics in France, that I do not speak to the Press,” he wrote, adding that he liked China’s offer best, with a small proviso.

“DENG XIAO PING officially invited me to accept the affectionate hospitality, and with no conditions, of CHINA,” he wrote.

The Chinese leader also relayed a Khmer Rouge offer for him to return to Cambodia as head of state.

“I accepted the generous hospitality of the RP of China,” Norodom Sihanouk wrote in his final remarks on the fall of Democratic Kampuchea.

“But I did not accept the ‘amiable’ offer of the Khmer Rouge and of their POL POT.”


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