New King Is ‘Man of Culture’

He has been regarded with some skepticism and much mystery by many of his fellow Cambodians for his long absence from the pub­lic eye.

But prior to his unanimous election to the throne Thursday, Prince Norodom Sihamoni, the next king of Cambodia, had distinguished himself through a bio­graphy intertwined with Cambo­dian history and a career devoted to the preservation of Cambodian arts, his biographers and colleagues said.

Born May 14, 1953 to King No­rodom Sihanouk and Queen No­ro­dom Monineath, Prince Siha­mo­ni was educated in Phnom Penh and Prague, Czechoslo­vakia, where he obtained his high school diploma in 1970.

He trained there in dance, mu­sic and theater until moving to Pyong­yang, North Korea, in 1976 to study cinematography, according to Julio Jeldres’ 2003 book “The Royal House of Cambodia.”

In April 1976, Prince Sihamoni received a fake telegram emblazoned with his father’s forged signature, summoning him back to Phnom Penh, Jeldres wrote. Prince Sihamoni lived under virtual house arrest with his parents and several other members of the royal family until January 1979, when a few members of the family were evacuated on a Chinese plane.

He served as his father’s secretary in China and North Korea for two years and then left to teach dance in France, later forming a troupe that performed pieces choreographed by Prince Siha­moni, according to Jeldres.

Following the signing of the Paris Peace Ac­cords in 1991, the Supreme Na­tional Council unanimously elected the prince as Cambo­dia’s ambassador and permanent representative to the UN.

On Aug 30, 1993, he was appointed Cam­bo­dia’s ambassador to the UN Ed­ucational, Scientific and Cultu­ral Organi­za­tion, headquartered in Paris. He left that post in August.

Those who worked with him in Paris recall Prince Sihamoni as a champion of Khmer arts.

“At Unesco, he has defended his country with strong conviction,” said Etienne Clement, Unesco’s country representative in Cambo­dia, earlier this week. “He is a man of culture,” he said.

Prince Sihamoni is fluent in Khmer, French and Czech, Jel­dres wrote. He is a bachelor with no children.

Despite his service to the country abroad, the future king is still a stranger to many of his compatriots.

“I know nothing about our new king. Who is Norodom Sihamo­ni?” asked Yeay Yun, 78, who was selling lotus flowers and coconuts in front of the Royal Palace Thurs­day at the time of Prince Sihamo­ni’s election to the throne.

(Addi­tional reporting by Kay Kimsong and Michelle Vachon)

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