PHNOM PENH -- Prince Norodom Sihanouk was reinstated as king of Cambodia Friday, 38 years after renouncing the throne and hours after signing a new constitution that restored democracy to the war-scarred nation after more than two decades.
In a solemn ceremony in the Throne Hall of the Royal Palace, the ailing 70-year-old leader took an oath before the National Assembly, diplomats, and senior U.N. officials.
Sihanouk, as head of state, earlier Friday signed the country's new 139-article constitution that allowed him to take the throne and was then voted king by a Council of the Crown.
'(This is) the most important and most significant day for Cambodia, ' Sihanouk told a crowd of Buddhist nuns, former Khmer Rouge guerrillas, other well-wishers and police outside the palace following the signing ceremony.
'Our Cambodian people are very proud of this constitution (which) restores peace and national rehabilitation,' said Sihanouk, flanked by Assembly members, diplomats and U.N. officials.
The king's first act was to officially approve the National Assembly's choice for Cambodia's two prime ministers -- his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and Hun Sen, who for eight years led the former communist regime in Phnom Penh, which fought Ranariddh's faction for 14 years.
The two parties formed a coalition after U.N.-supervised elections in May.
Sihanouk's coronation 'means there will be stability and peace,' Ranariddh said prior to the oath-taking.
Sihanouk was only 18 years old when the French crowned him king in 1941. But he abdicated in 1955 in favor of his father, Norodom Suramanit, who died five years later.
Sihanouk ended 13 years of exile and returned to his war- battered homeland in November 1991, one month after the signing the Paris Peace Accord on Cambodia
Holding a simple oath-taking ceremony rather than a formal coronation was part of Sihanouk's efforts to save money 'for the vital needs of the people.' However, another celebration is planned for Cambodia's Independence Day on Nov. 9.
Ambassadors and representatives of the U.N. peacekeeping mission and U.N. agencies attended both ceremonies.
'Cambodia is a striking demonstration to the world that intractable conflict can be resolved and seemingly irreconcilable views can be reconciled,' said the U.N. chief in Cambodia, Yasushi Akashi, after the constitution was signed.
'It shows that a country divided can be restored to national unity through self-determination and democracy,' Akashi said.
Sihanouk arrived in Phnom Penh Thursday from Beijing, where he had been receiving treatment for several weeks for a suspected prostrate tumor.
The new king will return to Beijing's Central State Hospital on Wednesday to undergo surgery for the growth.