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Former Cambodian King's Body Arrives in Phnom Penh

October 17, 2012

by Irwin Loy

Tens of thousands of mourners packed the streets of Phnom Penh as the body of Cambodia's former king, Norodom Sihanouk, was flown home Wednesday from China where he died Monday of cancer at age 89. Eight years after he gave up his throne to his son, Sihanouk is still called the father of the nation by many Cambodians.

Outside Phnom Penh’s main airport, thousands of white-clad mourners waited in searing heat for Norodom Sihanouk’s return.

One of them was Poun Pon. The 67-year-old journeyed here from her rural home to say goodbye to a man she still calls "King."

She said she felt shocked hearing the king died. She said she came to the airport because she wanted to see the body.

Sihanouk died Monday in Beijing, still a hero to many Cambodians. But he also leaves a mixed legacy. Unable to safely navigate through the Cold War politics that engulfed his country, he sided with Khmer Rouge rebels, who would later devastate his home.

Yet for people like Poun Pon, who came of age during Sihanouk’s golden years of the 1950s and '60s, she remembers the man who guided his country to independence from colonial France.

She said she remembers the day Sihanouk tried to get independence from France, and him trying to take territory back from neighboring countries.

The crowds strained to catch a glimpse of Sihanouk’s coffin as it left the airport on an adorned float in the late afternoon. Tens of thousands lined the 14-kilometer route leading to the Royal Palace in the city center. Sihanouk will lie in state there for three months, before a royal funeral is held.

Om Pros Tuch brought his six-year-old daughter because he wanted her to understand that the man he calls a god, was much more than the grainy news clips she sees on television.

He said on the TV it is just a small part of his background. He thought so many people in Phnom Penh would come to see him to express sorrow. This is the main reason he brought his daughter. It is different from just watching it on the TV.

Sihanouk’s return began a week-long official-mourning period.

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