/ Agencies) - Norodom Sianouk, former king of Cambodia, died today in a
hospital in the Chinese capital, after being struck by a heart attack. The
king, who spent many years in Beijing for political reasons and for treatment,
was 89 years old.
In accordance with his wishes, his body will be cremated and taken to Cambodia. His ashes will be buried in the royal palace of Phonm Penh. His assistant, Prince Sisowath Thomico, pointed out that his sovereign relative died on the last day of Pchum Ben, the feast of the dead. Although he abdicated in 2004 in favor of his son Norodom Sihamoni, the figure of the king was still very popular in the country, and considered almost a deity especially in the rural world.
During his last period in Cambodia - thanks to the intervention of his wife, Queen Monique - he reopened diplomatic relations with the Holy See (1994), confirming the steps towards religious freedom of the Catholic Church, which began a few years earlier.
Prince Thomiko said that the life of Sianouk "belongs to Cambodia and to history." In fact, his life reflected all the contradictions and hopes of the country, which in the past few decades, went from being a French colony to first a military, then communist dictatorship, and finally a budding democracy.
Born October 31, 1922 by King Norodom Suramarit, in 1941 Sianouk was crowned prince by the French, who hoped to be able to dominate him. But after the war he began a campaign for the independence of his country, obtained in 1953. He then abdicated in favor of his father, assuming the post of prime minister. He was famous for his constant and continuous resignations followed by returns to power.
In the '60s and '70s the country was involved in the Cold War fought on Vietnamese soil and then throughout Indochina. In '1970, Lon Nol, one of his generals, supported by the United States, seized power and Sianouk fled to Beijing. Here - thanks to China - he formed an alliance with the Khmer Rouge. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot took control of Cambodia. Sianouk returned as king, but was placed under house arrest in his palace, as the country suffered under the Communist dictatorship that killed nearly 2 million people. Later, Sianouk condemned the actions of the Khmer Rouge.
In 1979 the Vietnamese defeated the Khmer Rouge in the period of uncertainty, Sianouk fled to Beijing, to return to Cambodia in 1993, with the advent of a democratic state, sponsored by the UN. In the last years of his stay in the country he sought to resolve the divisions and struggles between various factions - including that of his son Norodom Ranariddh - and the strong man Hun Sen, but without much success. In 2004 he abdicated in favor of his son Sihamoni and often lived in Pyongyang or Beijing.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing condolences for the death of Sianouk, described as "a great friend of the Chinese people."