Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday said that the brief delay in lighting the casket at the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s cremation on February 4 was a “miracle” that allowed him alone to finally ignite the flame after four failed attempts by others.
Speaking at an inauguration ceremony at Phnom Penh’s Svay Por Pe pagoda, in his first public speech since the cremation, Mr. Hun Sen said the delay in cremating the former King’s body—scheduled to be burned at 6 p.m. but not ignited until shortly after 6:30—was because Norodom Sihanouk’s spirit was waiting for the prime minister to personally light the casket.
“This is a miracle of the late King Father’s sacred power; an impossible thing occurred at the time,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “Ignit-ing the royal flame was attempted five times before it worked, this is a sacred power.”
Mr. Hun Sen said that King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath were unsuccessful in their first three attempts to set the casket alight. For the fourth try, the Queen Mother invited the two supreme patriarchs of the Mahanikaya and Dhammayuttika Nikaya Buddhist sects to join the monarchs in igniting the flame, but this also failed.
“For the fifth time, it was me alone,” said Mr. Hun Sen.
“I knelt down to the feet of his majesty [the King Father] and prayed that I was sorry for setting [his body] on fire, but I had no choice. So, I brought forth the fire, and the flame finally ignited.
“I told the Queen Mother that his majesty did not want to leave his children. In response, the Queen Mother said ‘[the King Father] was waiting for you,’” he said.
“Now I have to inherit the task of protecting the monarchy,” he added.
Mr. Hun Sen also said that his explanation of the delay should quash any rumors that it was due to technical difficulties or disorganization on the part of the government, rumors he said had been spreading throughout the country.
“Please, I would like to inform you not to make any further analysis that is not true and is troublesome to the soul of his majesty the King Father,” he said.
As for the veracity of Mr. Hun Sen’s telling of the events, performed in private away from all television cameras, Royal Cabinet spokesman Prince Sisowath Thomico said he was not present but did not doubt the account.
“If the prime minister said it, it is true because what he says is always true,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen also commended fellow government officials, the Royal family and private citizens for their part in a successful ceremony.
“In the ceremony there was overcrowding, but no accidents,” he said. “I would like to complement the funeral organizing committee, all government officials and armed forces. I am so proud of our nation.”