China pays tribute to King Sihanouk

Oct. 15, 2012 at 11:46 PM
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BEIJING, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- The body of former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk, who died in Beijing, will be taken back to his country Wednesday, Chinese media said.

The 89-year-old monarch, much revered in his country, died Monday reportedly of a heart attack in the Chinese capital, where he had been under treatment for some time for a number of ailments.

Cambodia's current King Norodom Sihamoni, who succeeded his father after the latter abdicated in 2004, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived in Beijing to take the body home, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The two, upon arrival in Beijing, were met at the airport by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and were later taken to the residence of the late king, known as King-Father, in Beijing's Dongcheng District, and to the hospital where he died.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Sihanouk's residence to offer his condolences to King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen-Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, Xinhua said. Wen, recalling his long years of friendship with Sihanouk, said the King-Father had struggled for the independence of his country and the cause of peace.

The Cambodian visitors thanked Wen and said the royal family is grateful to China for taking care of Sihanouk for 40 years, Xinhua reported. Hun Sen thanked China and was quoted as saying Cambodia is willing to make joint efforts with Beijing to push bilateral relations to a new level.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, tipped to be the country's next leader, also visited the Sihanouk residence to express his condolences and sympathy.

In his condolence message, Chinese President Hu Jintao said Sihanouk's death was a huge loss to the Cambodian people.

Sihanouk, who became king in 1941 at age 18, was credited with winning Cambodia's independence from France. During his reign, he also had to watch the brutal Khmer Rouge take control of his country in the 1970s.

Voice of America reported Cambodians in the United States mourned his death.

The report said those in the Washington area visited a Cambodian Buddhist temple to pay their respects. The temple's head Monk Chanhan Ouk Abbot said after Cambodia gained independence in 1953 under Sihanouk, the country enjoyed peace and harmony for 20 years.

"We could travel anywhere without fear. The standard of living was high. This is what the people will remember about the king," he said, VOA reported.

Sihanouk also had been criticized for his early support of the Khmer Rouge.

In his condolence message, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged "King Sihanouk's long dedication to his country and his legacy as a unifying national leader who is revered by Cambodians and respected internationally," his spokesman said.

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