Amid the swirling sirens of an official motorcade and the sound of a military brass band, hundreds of dutiful school children watched as a grey-suited King Norodom Sihamoni arrived at the Independence Monument Sunday to officially extinguish the flame lit Friday to symbolize the country’s independence.
Walking under a gigantic gold-fabric parasol held by an attendant, the King greeted each individual in the line of bowing foreign ambassadors attending the closing ceremonies of this year’s independence celebrations, as dozens of government and parliamentary officials looked on.
“I am very happy to see His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni and watch him put out the flame today,” said San Pho, a 14-year-old high school student who turned up for the event with schoolmates.
Some students speculated on the meaning of independence, which Cambodia obtained from France in 1953, ending 90 years of French protectorate and administration. “Today is the day to remember the independence we got from France,” said Diem Srey Leak, a 16-year-old high school student. “It is best to live in freedom and independence.”
In the course of his “royal crusade for independence” in the early 1950s, then-King Norodom Sihanouk visited Paris, Tokyo and Washington in order to gain support for his cause. He briefly exiled himself to Thailand until France ceded to his request. He declared Cambodia’s independence on November 9, 1953.
“We thank King Norodom Sihanouk for leading the royal crusade,” said Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu San. “It is a good memory about how we got independence from France.”
Upon the ceremony’s end, King Sihamoni acknowledged the scores of formally-attired troops on hand as he departed.
Schoolchildren knelt in succession as the King rolled passed in his black Mercedes, circling the monument and heading back toward the Royal Palace.