The body of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who passed away in China at the age of 89 yesterday morning, will be returned to Cambodia on Wednesday and will lie in state for at least three months inside the grounds of the Royal Palace, a government spokesman said.
Hours after news of the retired King’s death emerged from Beijing, King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen were among a high-level delegation aboard a flight to China.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that the King Father’s body would lie in state for “at least three months” before a cremation would be held, though he did not provide specifics of the arrangements.
“The first official mourning will start from October 17 to October 23,” Mr. Kanharith said earlier in a written message.
He added that a decision had been made not to broadcast ceremonies marking Norodom Sihanouk’s death in order to honor the late King Father’s wishes.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, chief of cabinet for the late monarch, said that King Father Norodom Sihanouk had died of a heart attack at Beijing Hospital where he was receiving treatment in the early hours of yesterday morning.
The King Father stepped down from his position as King in 2004 and had suffered from various illnesses including cancer, diabetes and hypertension.
“His heart was very weak, so we were expecting this to happen, but we were just surprised that it happened so fast,” Prince Thomico said from Phnom Penh yesterday.
He said that King Sihamoni, Mr. Hun Sen, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Say Chhum, head of the ruling CPP’s standing committee, were among those aboard a special flight to Beijing at about 9:30 a.m. yesterday.
“His Majesty the King and Prime Minister Hun Sen went to Beijing this morning,” Prince Thomico said. Queen Mother Norodom Monineath was already in Beijing with her husband when he passed away, he said.
Prince Thomico also said that the National Committee for Organizing National and International Festivals would handle the arrangements for a ceremony marking the King Father’s death.
“The ceremony will be held according to royal Cambodian traditions,” he said.
Immediately after officials in Phnom Penh were informed of the King Father’s death, a meeting was held at the Council of Ministers to discuss arrangements for the royal funeral and the period of official mourning, said Tith Sothea, spokesman for the Council of Ministers Press and Quick Reaction Unit.
“There was a meeting [at the Council of Ministers yesterday] to prepare a public announcement of the ceremony to mark the body returning home,” Mr. Sothea said.
He added that Mr. Hun Sen may cancel a scheduled trip to Ho Chi Minh City on Friday and Saturday for a summit with Vietnam and Laos on the so-called Development Triangle Area.
Son Soubert, an adviser to the late King Father, said that in the event of a monarch’s death, the body was customarily kept in state for a month.
“There are a lot of ceremonies and so on—for the officials, for the Buddhist monks. That’s what happened in the past,” Mr. Soubert said.
This period is normally followed by a cremation on a funeral pyre on Veal Mean, the gardens in front of Phnom Penh’s National Museum, Mr. Soubert said. “But with the new protocol, I’m not sure about that,” he said.