King Norodom Sihanouk Thursday personally welcomed Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of an old friend, but said his failing health would not allow him to return the visit.
Shielded from the sun by gold ceremonial umbrellas, the King, accompanied by Queen Norodom Monineath, escorted Megawati from her plane at Pochentong International Airport along a red carpet that was lined with government officials, diplomats and about 100 people waving Cambodian and Indonesian flags.
Megawati, who became Indonesia’s fifth president in July, is visiting Cambodia as part of a tour of Asean countries. She flew in Thursday from Siem Reap where she spent the morning visiting the temples of Angkor. She will leave Phnom Penh today after meeting Cambodian leaders and staying at the Royal Palace as a guest of the King.
At the airport, King Sihanouk said Indonesia and Cambodia have been friends for a long time, supporting each other on matters of “independence, territorial sovereignty, unity and prosperity.” He said the visit will benefit Cambodia because “it is good [for the country] to strengthen its ties in the international arena.”
King Sihanouk mentioned his long friendship with Megawati’s father, the late Achmed Sukarno. In the King’s book “Sihanouk Reminisces” published in 1990, the King wrote a chapter on Sukarno, who became the first president of Indonesia after the Netherlands and the new country agreed on terms of independence in 1949.
Sukarno visited Cambodia five times between 1959 and 1965, and King Sihanouk and Queen Monineath returned the visits. In his book, King Sihanouk recalled that Sukarno once asked to marry Princess Bopha Devi, now Minister of Culture, who had performed Khmer classical dances for him.
But the King said he did not foresee another trip to Indonesia.
“I am frail, I am very weak, I have a health problem. I am 80 years old. Indonesia’s people would understand as Cambodian people do,” he said.
While waiting for Megawati’s plane to land, Prince Norodom Ranariddh was asked whether the King would testify at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. The King was the nominal head of the regime, but in fact its prisoner.
“If the courts need him, he will be ready to testify at the tribunal as a witness,” the Prince said. “His Majesty the King’s position is clear—he wants to tell the world and Cambodians about the facts” of the Khmer Rouge regime.
“Not only was he not involved with the Khmer Rouge regime, but also he was a victim of the regime,” Prince Ranariddh said.
(Reporting by Lor Chandara, Michelle Vachon and Matt Reed)