PHNOM PENH, WASHINGTON DC- Thousands of mourners continued to gather before the Royal Palace Thursday, burning incense, praying and remembering their former king, Norodom Sihanouk, and his leadership.
Sihanouk’s body was interred at the Royal Palace Wednesday, where it will lie in state for three months before it is cremated.
The grounds between the Royal Palace and the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers were full of mourners Thursday, most wearing white.
Pich Dara, a monk from the Mekong Delta, said he had shaved his head for Sihanouk’s passing, only the third time done so in his life: once when he became ordained and once when his own father passed away.
Sihanouk died in Beijing Monday, after years of illness and a retreat from the public eye and the turbulent politics of post-war Cambodia.
His influence, personality and legacies have been widely discussed, with some observers critical of his role supporting the Khmer Rouge but most pointing to his political desire for peace, independence and unity.
Sok Touch, head of Khemarak University, in Phnom Penh, told VOA Khmer Thursday that the country’s current leaders should serve the people as the king had.
“It is a tragedy when politicians are like Pol Pot, who died [and was cremated] on a tire with a bundle of flowers,” he said.
Political analyst Chea Vannath said Sihanouk would be remembered as a talented statesman and “great hero” to Cambodia, who grew Cambodia after independence into international recognition during his Sankum Reastr Niyum reign.
“What Cambodia need to learn from the Sankum Reastr Niyum is to do whatever it takes to build the country, towards helping people with warmness, dignity, and living with highest the highest pride as Cambodians,” she said. “That’s what we need to do consistently.”
She compared Sihanouk to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, as well as the 12th-Century Khmer King Jayavarman VII.
Venerable monk Hok Sovann, the head of the Cambodian Temple, in Montreal, said he had been shocked to learn of Sihanouk’s death. But he said he hoped Cambodian leaders would view him as a good example.
“The Cambodian people—men and women, young and old—must study about some heroes who did great work, in order to value them,” he said. “Don’t be wrongly angry, and then say there were wrong about everything. This is ungenerous. Generosity is knowing when one is wrong and when one is right.”
He praised Sihanouk’s leadership, especially his willingness to hold court each week and hear the grievances of the people. The current government, and the courts, would do well to follow such an example, he said.