King Norodom Sihanouk announced on Saturday that he and Queen Norodom Monineath will go to Beijing for medical treatment within the next week, not specifying a particular date.
The King’s statement says that the King and Queen had blood tests on Friday indicating that the King’s cancer is acting up and the Queen “has serious health problems” as well.
King Sihanouk will be leaving at a time of increasing furor over his unusual outspokenness in recent months, including a lengthy statement, which the King called an “expose,” received Thursday in which he harshly criticized Cambodia’s current state of affairs.
On Friday, the King said he would abdicate “without delay” if the National Assembly voted for such a move.
The royal couple were scheduled to depart for their residence in the Chinese capital on Feb 21, but delayed the trip in the wake of political tension stemming from the Feb 18 killing of Funcinpec adviser Om Radsady. King Sihanouk at the time said the postponement was “because the political situation in our country has intensified and many compatriots asked me to stay with them.”
In planning that abortive trip, the King promised to return to Cambodia before Khmer New Year in mid-April. Saturday’s statement does not give a general or specific return time.
In his abdication statement Friday, the 80-year-old King, whose ailments have included cancer of the lymph nodes, arteriosclerosis and two strokes, declared that he expects to die “in the near future.”
He noted that Cambodia’s two previous kings, Suramarit and Monivong, each lived only to the age of 64. He said he had the “prayers and wishes” of his subjects as well as the treatment he regularly receives from his “eminent” Chinese doctors to thank for his own longevity.
Usually, when King Sihanouk and the Queen make one of their frequent Beijing trips, he states only that they are headed for a routine checkup rather than specifying the medical reason for the journey.
Such public intimations of his own mortality were a first for the King.
In a similar vein, Thursday’s “expose” claims that Cambodia’s current problems “will prove, sooner or later, mortal…for our unfortunate Kampuchea, for our Khmer Race, for our true and innocent People.”
The 10-page, typed, French-language letter studiously avoids blaming the current government or any particular figure in it. King Sihanouk goes out of his way to praise Prime Minister Hun Sen, CPP President Chea Sim and the ruling CPP itself.
The King even declares he is “certain of the great victory (very deserved) of the CPP in the legislative elections in July 2003.”
But the letter is mostly concerned with caustically lamenting the various predicaments of modern-day Cambodia and comparing it unfavorably to the halcyon days of the 1960s Sangkum Reastr Niyum, which the King then led as prince and head of state.
Chief among these problems, the King explains at length, are the widespread selling of government-bestowed honors and titles, deforestation, land-grabbing by foreign profiteers and the powerful, loss of territory, government dependence on foreign aid, the pillaging of cultural antiquities—and, above all, “the extreme poverty of a great proportion of our People,” who are left landless, hungry and begging.
The King does not once say who is to blame for these conditions.
There was no clear impetus for the declaration.
It purports to be a set of responses to a letter from one Ruom Ritt, a correspondent of King Sihanouk’s whose letters frequently feature in the King’s monthly bulletin, a sporadically issued booklet of palace-related documents.
King Sihanouk has called Ruom Ritt a “childhood friend” who lives in the Pyrenees mountains in France. Ruom Ritt’s French writing is strikingly similar in style and syntax to the King’s own except for Ruom Ritt’s generally vehement and exclamatory tone.
In the passage to which the King’s letter is ostensibly a reply, Ruom Ritt complains that Hun Sen, the CPP and its supporters have compared their achievements to the revered Angkorian rule of King Jayavarman VII, claiming superiority over the 1960s’ Sangkum Reastr Niyum. Ruom Ritt asks the King to “express Your feelings on this subject, a rather ‘burning’ subject, I think.”
As he has often done before, the King extols the works of the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, painting it as a society of happy, hardworking cooperators dedicated to building a better Cambodia. The Sangkum Reastr Niyum provided infrastructure and services for its people, exported surplus crops and never asked for foreign aid, he claims.
He contrasts this with Cambodia today, careful never to directly blame the government or its leaders.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)