Several hundred family members, friends and colleagues bade farewell Thursday to the late General Tep Ben, regarded by many Cambodians as the “Hero of Preah Vihear Temple.”
The 71-year-old Tep Ben, who died Friday night of heart disease at Calmette Hospital, was a supreme military adviser to King Norodom Sihanouk. He was cremated Thursday in ceremonies held across from Wat Botum.
He was awarded the Senachey military medal for leading Cambodian troops to force the Thai military from Preah Vihear in a border dispute that dates back decades.
In 1958 Thailand seized the temple and surrounding area along Cambodia’s northern border with Thailand. Although the World Court ordered Thailand to return the area in 1962, the Thai military did not retreat until Tep Ben’s men forced them to leave.
King Sihanouk expressed his condolences in a message to Tep Ben’s widow, Tep Sokha. “The death of General Tep Ben is the loss of a great child of our nation and people,” the King wrote.
Tep Sokha said at the cremation service that she was sorry for losing her husband. “But he died of natural causes, and may his soul go to heaven,” she said.
Tep Ben had a distinguished career, winning many medals. A former director of the Military Academy in Phnom Penh, he also formed the anti-Khmer Rouge July Movement on the border in 1976 and helped create Funcinpec’s army.