Cambodia celebrated the 52nd anniversary of its independence from France on Wednesday morning with modest pomp and circumstance in a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen, Funcinpec President Norodom Ranariddh, King Norodom Sihamoni and other dignitaries.
During the ceremony, government officials—clad in white dress uniforms and gold epaulettes—milled about informally as a military band struck up a tune to mark the day.
Hun Sen, Prince Ranariddh and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An stood in one group, speaking among themselves, while Senate and CPP President Chea Sim and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin formed a separate group.
Ceremonies were similar to those in previous years, many agreed, although opposition Senator Ung Bun-Ang, who was absent from the event, lamented that contemporary ceremonies were not “as much fun” as past ones.
“I forgot to have my uniform dry cleaned,” he joked, explaining that he had just returned from a trip abroad.
“These days they cut down the ceremony, make it very simple,” he lamented, recalling celebrations in the 1960s in which parades were held all along Norodom Boulevard.
“It used to be a lot of fun for everyone.”
Cambodia was officially granted independence from France on Nov 9, 1953, following what some observers say was deft political maneuvering by then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
Khmer-language television stations Apsara and TVK played films by the retired King to mark the event.
Keo Sam, 43, deputy chief of the Honorary Sword Unit, was on hand with several of his soldiers to guard the ceremonial flame of independence.
He said he was happy to see political leaders joined together to celebrate independence, which he said his grandfather—a Khmer Issarak who fought against the French—could only have dreamed of.
But he said he was sad that the “King-Father” could not attend the event.
Student Keth Atith Khank, 15, from Sisowath High School, agreed.
“We recall and pay respect to those who sacrificed their lives for the nation,” he said. “But I miss the King-Father because he gained independence.”
(Additional reporting by Michael Cowden)