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Mourners See Wisdom in Late Monarch’s Last Words

Cambodian mourners cry and pray outside a crematorium as the late King Norodom Sihanouk is cremated in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013. Hundreds of thousands of mourners gathered in Cambodia's capital Monday for the cremation of Sihanouk, the revered "King-Father," who survived wars and the murderous Khmer Rouge regime to hold center stage in the Southeast Asian nation for more than half a century. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
PHNOM PENH - Although the late former king Norodom Sihanouk is gone, his admirers say they want to see the country’s political leaders follow his most important message: be united for the nation.

“Before his death, His Majesty advised his people to stop quarreling with each other,” Ti Sam Ath, a farmer from Kampong Cham province, told VOA Khmer, following funeral ceremonies last week. “So I hope his words stay in the minds of all Cambodians.”

That goes too for political leaders, who risk losing the support of the public if they prove too divisive, he said.

Sihanouk, who died in Beijing in October and was cremated in Phnom Penh last week, was widely seen as a unifying figure, especially at times when separate factions could not compromise. Sihanouk was widely respected as a statesmen by many Cambodians, who felt he maintained a close connection with his subjects.

Today, though, Cambodia’s opposition and ruling parties remain at odds. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy is in exile, facing a host of charges he claims are politically motivated, even as national parliamentary elections are set for July.

“It would be good if all today’s leaders implemented or followed His Majesty’s plans and wishes of national reconciliation and protection of the nation,” Dy Him, a retired civil servant, told VOA Khmer following ceremonies last week.

Venerable Nam Chan Ten, a monk from Wat Ounalom pagoda, near the Royal Palace and the field where Sihanouk was cremated, said all Cambodians would do well to heed the former monarch’s vision. “We, the Khmer children and race, need to love each other and unite for the country to be prosperous and move forward, as His Majesty wished,” the monk said.

Kem Sokha, head of the opposition Human Rights Party, said that Cambodia’s leadership needs now to act as “a role model” for national reconciliation.

But ruling Cambodian People’s Party officials say they are not to blame for the mistrust between the two sides.

“The important thing is whether or not we respect each other,” Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said. “If you start only with words such as traitors, national thieves or land-sellers, then why would you want to shake hands with us?”

Independent political analyst Lao Monghay, however, said that the two sides need not agree on everything and should debate within the National Assembly.

“Just argue against each other in parliament,” he said. “Whether or not they agree with each other on their opposing ideas, they could raise differing opinions. That benefits the nation, because a nation needs ideas.”