King Norodom Sihamoni, retired King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath returned to Phnom Penh on Wednesday night to little of the fanfare that usually greets a royal return.
Until a few hours before their arrival at 10 pm on a China Southern Airlines flight, some members of the royal family were unsure of exactly when the King and retired King would return.
“He does not want to bother government officials, members of parliament,” Prince Sisowath Sirirath said earlier Wednesday of the retired King’s late return.
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, concurred.
“He promised beforehand that he won’t create any trouble for our leaders,” she said. “He wants to be low profile.”
But the low-key arrival attended by more than 100 local and foreign dignitaries became an event when the retired King gave an impromptu news conference to explain his modest homecoming.
Though Prime Minister Hun Sen had offered a chartered flight, the retired King said he refused because he did not want to be an expense to the government’s budget.
“Samdech Hun Sen offered me a ‘special flight’ but I ask Samdech Hun Sen to please let me, my son, my wife and my followers to fly like other people,” the retired King said. “It will not cost the national budget.”
When asked about whether he would continue to be involved in politics, particularly on the contentious issue of the border, Norodom Sihanouk reiterated his commitment to stay out of politics.
“Samdech Hun Sen requested to be in charge,” he said, referring to a recent draft amendment to a royal decree establishing a national border authority.
“I am happy that he takes all responsibility. I have served the nation in every way, but now I am 83, 84, it’s enough (for me), it’s time that the next generation to take charge.”
Norodom Sihanouk said that he returned to Cambodia simply to be close to the people.
The retired King has been in Beijing for several months receiving medical treatment and several rounds of chemotherapy for serious and recurrent stomach cancer.
In April, with his health reportedly in serious decline, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh reported that the retired King was in very poor health. Nonetheless, he remained defiant in the face of naysayers, pledging that he would not go quietly.
“A good number of people wish me dead,” the retired King wrote in a statement faxed from Beijing.
“But for the moment the good God and the Lord Buddha have not decided to send me ‘to the hereafter.’”
Even from his sickbed in Beijing, the retired King managed to stir up plenty of speculation and intrigue.
Selected to head the Supreme National Council on Border Affairs in late April, the retired King encouraged students and activists to report cases of border encroachment directly to him.
He then posted their findings on his Web site and criticized the government for not doing enough to protect Cambodian territory.
The prime minister, apparently enraged over calls to empower the supreme council, last week compared the body to a second government.
Hun Sen has since been named sole president of the National Authority on Border Affairs, giving him many of the powers some had sought for the supreme council.