Sihanouk, Norodom

Sihanouk, Norodom
▪ 1994

      Norodom Sihanouk was crowned king of Cambodia for the second time on Sept. 24, 1993. The decision to restore the monarchy was an admission that only Sihanouk had the prestige and authority to bring peace to a nation exhausted after years of civil war.

      Sihanouk was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Oct. 31, 1922, and was educated at French schools in Vietnam, China, and France. During World War II, when Cambodia was still a French protectorate, Sihanouk became monarch (April 1941) for the first time. The Nazi-backed Vichy regime in Paris apparently believed that an overindulged teenager could be manipulated more easily than his father. After World War II, Sihanouk negotiated for Cambodia's sovereignty. France recognized that times had changed and in 1953 granted independence to Cambodia.

      In 1955 Sihanouk abdicated in favour of his father and formed the People's Socialist Community, which won the national elections that year. As foreign minister and prime minister, Sihanouk characteristically sought to steer a middle course between competing ideological factions and Cold War rivalries; he established relations with China, the U.S.S.R., and the West. In 1956 he became Cambodia's permanent representative to the United Nations. Following the death of Sihanouk's father, the Cambodian constitution was amended to allow direct elections for the head of state. Sihanouk won the post easily in the June 1960 election.

      By the end of 1962 the U.S. had some 11,000 military advisers in South Vietnam. In 1965, after Cambodian villages had been bombed, Sihanouk broke off relations with the U.S., which by that time had become deeply involved in the Vietnam War. In 1970, while on a foreign tour, Sihanouk was overthrown, and Lon Nol, who favoured close ties with the U.S., took charge of the government. Sihanouk then created a government in exile in Beijing (Peking) and made allies of the North Vietnamese and the rebel Khmer Rouge army in an effort to regain power. Lon Nol fled the country in April 1975 as Khmer Rouge troops advanced on the capital. When Pol Pot took over the government, Sihanouk returned to Cambodia as the head of state; one year later he resigned. He was under house arrest during Pol Pot's reign of terror. Among the estimated one million Cambodians who lost their lives were 2 of Sihanouk's sons, 3 daughters, and at least 15 grandchildren. When the Khmer Rouge were driven from power in 1979 by troops from North Vietnam, Sihanouk went into exile in China. During the next decade he helped direct the struggle against Cambodia's Vietnamese-installed government. As president of a government in exile, he embraced the Khmer Rouge and elements of the faction that had toppled him in 1970.

      In 1991, after years of frustrating negotiations, the four main factions vying for power in Cambodia agreed to establish a Supreme National Council that would rule the country under the chairmanship of Sihanouk while preparations were made for a UN-sponsored and supervised election in May 1993. Even though Sihanouk's party finished in third place, he was named prime minister on June 3. One of his sons, Ranariddh, whose party had finished in first place, was named deputy prime minister, as was Hun Sen, the leader of the former Vietnamese-installed government. On September 21 the Constituent Assembly, recognizing Sihanouk's unique place in Cambodia's turbulent history over the past half century, modified the constitution and restored the monarchy. (CHERYL L. COLLINS)

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Universalium. 2010.

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