WASHINGTON DC - As Asean leaders offered their condolences in Phnom Penh this week, US officials in Washington paid their respects to the Cambodian Embassy for the death of former king Norodom Sihanouk.
Delegates from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam paid their respects at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Friday, before meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen, officials said.
On Wednesday, US officials came to the Cambodian Embassy in Washington.
“King Sihanouk was of course a historical figure,” US deputy assistant secretary of state Joseph Yun told VOA Khmer at embassy. “He will be long remembered. He made enormous contributions to the nation of Cambodia and to the region in general. And he has been a historical figure in Southeast Asia for many decades. So our sympathies are very much with His Majesty the King and the people of Cambodia.”
US relations with Cambodia under Sihanouk experienced ups and downs over the years. The US severed diplomatic ties with Cambodia in 1965, as Sihanouk tried to remain neutral in the US war in Vietnam.
Relations were re-established in 1969, a year before the US-backed general Lon Nol deposed Sihanouk in a coup. That led to Sihanouk’s unlikely cooperation with the communist guerrillas as he sought to regain power. The Khmer Rouge, as the former king dubbed them, took over Phnom Penh five years later and put Sihanouk under house arrest.
Yun called Sihanouk a “steady influence” on Cambodia.
Cambodian Ambassador Hem Heng said the embassy would remain open to Cambodians who wish to pay their respects. “We should all remember the great work of our king,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cambodian analysts say the former king helped prevent the fracturing of Cambodia, despite the spread of the Vietnam War, US bombings in the countryside, the Khmer Rouge and the wars that followed.
Sok Touch, dean of Khemarak University in Phnom Penh, said the king left a legacy of Cambodian wholeness behind him that should be remembered.
“He claimed independence and reconciled Cambodians, because he knew that if Cambodians broke apart, then there would only be B-52 bombings, only hoes hitting Cambodians’ heads, only tears, disappearing children and parents,” he told “Hello VOA” Thursday.
Chea Vannath, an independent analyst, told “Hello VOA” she thought the former king’s passing might “soften the hearts of the politicians.”
“So I just hope that losing the king father will be an element to push all of our leaders to have compassion and mutual compromises toward democracy,” she said.