King Is Jubilant on 50th Independence Day

King Norodom Sihanouk, in one of his frequent Web site postings, responded Saturday to The Chi­na Post’s headline for an Associated Press story that read “Cambodians mark 50th year of independence with little to celebrate.”

“I have obtained in 1953 total in­de­pendence for my Fatherland. There is a lot to celebrate, not a little,” his scrawled retort read.

Seemingly in agreement, more than 3,000 people ­gathered around the Independence Monu­ment Sunday morning in Phnom Penh to mark the 50th anniversary of Cambodia’s independence from France.

The 81-year-old King arrived standing in the back of a black Mer­­cedes convertible, greeting celebrants along the road. Queen Norodom Monineath accompanied him.

“I am very happy this year. I am proud for all my children and proud for the nation. Please, our in­dependence, territory, integrity and national unity must remain eternal,” the King told reporters at the In­dependence Monument.

He went on to say that foreign countries are watching Cambodia to see whether it has the unity to de­velop itself.

“Our answer is that we have united. We have kept our independence, which is vital in order for us to protect and develop the country within Asia and the world,” the King said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Sihamoni, who normally resides in Paris, also at­tend­ed the event.

Prince Sihamoni stood in for his father at last year’s independence ceremony, an appearance that caused some to wonder if he was being groomed for succession. But in a letter the following day, King Sihanouk denied having any pre­ferences on the issue.

Prince Sihamoni al­so sat in on a meeting convened Wed­­nesday by the King that was intended to break the deadlock be­tween the three main political parties.

Several people attending Sun­day’s ceremony said they were pleased to see the King politically in­volved again.

Chea Chum, 75, held up a pos­ter of a young King Sihanouk and said he was glad to be at the celebration, but he voiced concern ov­er the current political climate.

He reminisced about the days of King Sihanouk’s Sangkum Reastr Niyum government. “I wish the King could rule us again. Then we would have peace, development and safety,” Chea Chum said.

Younger generations also were cheered by the King’s attendance.

“The King’s presence encourages us to be happy. Although the King is old, he is still healthy,” said Sok Theoun, 26. He added that last week’s meeting of the political parties is proof of King Sihanouk’s continuing influence. “I think the King is the only mediator who can solve the political crisis.”                                    After lighting the ceremonial flame at the monument, the King re­turned to the Royal Palace where he and the Queen sat in a parade box with the King’s half-bro­ther, Prince Norodom Siri­vudh, Prince Sihamoni, Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, Senate Pres­i­dent Chea Sim, former royalist gen­eral Senator Nhiek Bun Chhay, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and Senate Deputy President Prince Sisowath Chivon Monirak, among others. Foreign diplomats and other of­ficials sat in stands below, under a hot sun.

Hun Sen delivered a speech of grat­itude. “The Royal Government and the Cambodian people would like to express our profound thanks to King Norodom Siha­nouk and our ancestors who sacrificed their lives, wisdom and strength for independence, integrity and territory,” he said.

Hun Sen added that the government recently published a history book detailing the liberation movement that will be used to educate younger generations.

The release of a white pigeon in­to the sky kicked off a lengthy pa­rade featuring soldiers, civil servants, traditional dancers and the floats of government ministries.  French Navy sailors al­so stood at at­tention in front of the pal­ace. French President Jacques Chi­­rac had sent his congratulations and birthday wishes in a mes­­sage posted on the King’s Web site.

Speaking after the parade on Sun­­day, Sim Sophal, director of the In­­ter­­ior Min­istry’s bodyguard department, said that 10,000 police officers, bodyguards and spies had been dispatched to guarantee se­cur­ity for the celebration.

The Vietnam News Agen­cy re­port­ed that Cambodia’s ambassador to Hanoi, Var Sim Samreth, host­ed a reception there to honor the in­dependence anniversary. Viet­­nam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan was among the officials at­tending. The report said that Var Sim Sam­reth expressed his deep gra­titude to the nations that had aided Cam­bodia’s development and spoke of the “friendship and cooperation” between Cambodia and Vietnam being “constantly strengthened.”

(Add­ition­al reporting by Wency Leung)


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