As the finishing touches were being put to the Preah Meru plaza in front of the National Museum where late King Father Norodom Sihanouk will be cremated on February 4, members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Special Force Airborne 911 Brigade were on Friday preparing to send him off with one of the highest military honors—a deafening 101-gun artillery salute.
The ceremony harks back to the days of the imperialist British Empire, when heads of state or the king would receive a 101-gun artillery salute.
On February 1, the brigade’s 14 Howitzer artillery guns—using shells donated by Vietnam—will fire a full salute as the King Father’s body leaves the Royal Palace for the last time. After it has traveled from Wat Phnom back to the stupa at Preah Meru, the battery will fire a second salute. A third will be discharged on February 4, the day the King Father’s body is cremated.
“The sound of big guns in the ceremony is necessary,” Defense Minister General Tea Banh said during the practice drill at the brigade’s headquarters in Phnom Penh on Friday, which was also attended by RCAF Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun, Defense Ministry Secretary of State Neang Phat and a Vietnamese major general.
“We regard this as a success in preparation, so that we can have good results during the ceremony,” Gen. Banh added.
During the drill, which was ob-served by up to 500 soldiers, 12 of the 105-mm artillery guns were split into units of three. The guns in each unit fired simultaneously, followed lastly by the final two, until all 101 of the Vietnamese-donated shells were spent.
“We were concerned about preparing the armed forces for this event, because we lack these kinds of shells,” Gen. Banh said.
“The state contacted [other countries], and Vietnam replied,” he added, thanking the Vietnamese for helping to prepare the brigade for the ceremony.
The artillery guns are to be transported to the Royal Palace, in front of which the salutes will be fired next week.
On Saturday, RCAF troops were scheduled to run through a practice march ahead of the official ceremony, when at least 1,000 soldiers are expected to provide an honor guard for the King Father’s body as it goes on its final procession.