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From there, he headed an unlikely coalition of three guerrilla groups fighting the Vietnamese-installed puppet government. The war lasted a decade.

Sihanouk remained a unifying figure, though, going on to lead the U.N.-supported interim structure that ran Cambodia until 1993 elections.

The same year, Sihanouk reascended the throne in a traditional Khmer coronation. Restored to his palace and traveling the countryside with personal bodyguards on loan from North Korea, he assumed a new role as beloved father of the country — even though many adoring, older Cambodians expressed hope for a return of his previous direct rule.

But the bright promise of the elections soon faded.

Four years after the polls, Hun Sen launched a violent coup, and he remains in power to this day.

In the last years of his life, Sihanouk’s profile and influence receded. While older people in the countryside still held him in reverence, the young generation regarded him as a figure of the past and one partly responsible for Cambodia‘s tragedy.

Rarely at a loss for words, he became for a time a prolific blogger, posting his musings on current affairs and past controversies. Most of his writing was literally in his own hand — his site featured images of letters, usually in French in a cramped cursive script, along with handwritten marginalia to news clippings that caught his interest.

His production tailed off, however, as he retreated further from the public eye, spending more and more time under doctor’s care in Beijing.

The hard-living Sihanouk had suffered ill health since the early 1990s. He endured cancer; a brain lesion; and arterial, heart, lung, liver and eye ailments.

In late 2011, on his return from another extended stay in China, Sihanouk dramatically declared that he never intended to leave his homeland again. But true to his mercurial reputation, he flew off to Beijing just a few months later for medical care.

Associated Press writers Kay Johnson and Todd Pitman in Bangkok contributed to this report.