Officials around Phnom Penh yesterday finalized preparations for Cambodia’s largest funeral in decades, deploying thousands of heavily armed soldiers and installing a dozen Howitzer artillery cannons in front of the Royal Palace for a 101-gun salute for the much-loved monarch.
As authorities cordoned off roads around the nearby funeral pyre, where the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk will be cremated on Monday, the streets became congested with cars and motorcycles trying to make their way across the city.
Thousands more people started to gather around the Royal Palace in an attempt to secure a front row spot for today’s 6-km funeral procession of the late King Father’s body, which will be placed inside an intricately decorated royal urn.
“We brought in large artillery [guns] for the ceremony, so we must ensure safety and security so no motorcycles or cars hit them,” said Pong Savrith, deputy municipal military police commander, to explain why so many armed soldiers in camouflage had been stationed around the city.
He added that more than 10,000 security force personnel including 2,000 military police officers would be deployed during the procession today and over the weekend ahead of Norodom Sihanouk’s cremation ceremony on Monday at Veal Mean, the park in front of the National Museum.
“We must work hard to keep the security and safety for this historic ceremony,” said Chuon Narin, deputy municipal police chief.
On Monday, about a dozen heads of state, including Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, are expected to arrive for Norodom Sihanouk’s cremation.
Along Street 178, large sheets of green and white material were placed over the apartment buildings, hotels and guesthouses that look out over Veal Mean, blocking the view for residents who thought they might have a prime spot from which to observe the cremation proceedings.
On Sisowath Quay, hundreds of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers conducted a drill and marched in front of the 12 artillery guns, which will be fired this morning in a 101-gun salute when the late King Father’s body leaves the Royal Palace to start on its 6-km procession around the city.
The U.S. Embassy issued an announcement to its citizens living in and visiting Phnom Penh on Wednesday, warning Americans of a large influx of people into the capital for the cremation.
“We advise all U.S. citizens to exercise caution while traveling in and around Phnom Penh, and strongly recommend avoiding large crowds,” the statement says.
Outside the Royal Palace on Sothearos Boulevard yesterday evening, thousands of mourners dressed in white shirts fashioned with Norodom Sihanouk badges and black pants stood or knelt as they mourned the late King Father, who died in Beijing on October 15.
“It is now the final ceremony, so I must be part of this,” said Huong Sokly, 61, who traveled from Kandal province’s Khsach Kandal district yesterday with four relatives.