Declarations of respect and condolences continued to pour in from foreign dignitaries and local officials yesterday to the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who died of a heart attack in Beijing early Monday morning at the age of 89.
The late King led a life as tumultuous as his country, winning independence for Cambodia in 1953, falling in a coup to pro-U.S. rivals in 1970, watching his country devastated under the Khmer Rouge, and then returning from exile in 1991 to help make the transition back to peace.
Leaders and senior officials from around the world sought to recognize his role in Cambodia’s 20th-century history yesterday.
French President Francois Hollande praised Norodom Sihanouk for maintaining close ties between their nations and coming to embody the spirit of sovereignty.
“I salute the memory of a great man who embodied the destiny of his country and his people in the most terrible challenges of the 20th Century and the construction of peace, where he always found France at his side,” he said in a statement.
“I know the strong and historical links that united His Majesty the King Father to France, which, thanks to him, contributed to bringing our two countries and two peoples closer together. Architect of Cambodia’s independence, tireless defender of his country within the international community, he was for many the symbol of Asian politics based on the balance and the defense of the sovereignty of nations.”
The European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, expressed “great sadness” at news of the King’s death.
“King Norodom Sihanouk was a well respected leader and a key figure in Cambodia’s recent history. The E.U. will continue to stand by Cambodia,” she said.
The U.N., which brokered the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991 with the King, Prime Minister Hun Sen and other factions calling for an end to years of civil war, also sent its condolences.
“The secretary-general [Ban Ki-moon] acknowledges King Sihanouk’s long dedication to his country and his legacy as a unifying national leader who is revered by Cambodians and respected internationally,” Mr. Ban’s spokesman said in a statement.
“The secretary-general also hopes that the legacy of the former King will allow Cambodia to advance the national healing process.”
Closer to home, Singapore thanked the King for supporting its own independence.
“Singapore will never forget the crucial hole His Majesty played in fostering the enduring friendship between our two countries,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. “Cambodia has always been a close friend to Singapore, and we remember with gratitude that Cambodia was one of the first countries to recognize our new republic when Singapore became independent in 1965.”
Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra sent their condolences also, according to the Bangkok Post.
Australia, China, Japan and the U.S. have also since Monday sent their condolences.
On her personal website, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua yesterday urged the country to carry on what she called the King’s work to unify the country.
“Our revered Samdech Euv took the first steps for independence and for peace for his nation and for his people. It is our duty to put national unity first as we continue on this unfinished path,” she said. “We mourn together and we heal together as a nation that has encountered so much pain. We pray for the soul of our revered King Father to be in peace.”
The opposition Human Rights Party also wished the late King a speedy transition to a happy afterlife.
“We wish the King Father is sent to paradise soon and that your name be known around the world for keeping shade for your children,” it said in a statement.
In his own statement, National Assembly President Heng Samrin credited Norodom Sihanouk not only for Cambodia’s independence, but the movement he founded upon taking up politics full time in 1955 when Sangkum Reastr Niyum, or the People’s Socialist Community, was created.
“Cambodia became strong and modern during that time,” he said.
With Norodom Sihanouk as head of state, Cambodia benefited from years of peace and relative prosperity that have come to be remembered as the country’s modern golden age. But the period was also marked by severe suppression of government critics, especially on the political left.