Mom Khak, 23, was selling incense and candles in front of the palace and acknowledged that Sihanouk’s death was good fortune for him because the crowd meant better business. Even as more mourners flocked to the area, he said he had already earned the equivalent of $60, more than 10 times what he usually made in a day.
“I am sad about the death of the king-father but happy as well that I could earn more money because of his death,” he said as his 1-year-old daughter looked on.
He added that he had prayed to Sihanouk’s spirit the night before to help his business.
Sihanouk played many roles in the Cambodia he helped navigate through a half-century of war and genocide. He was a known as a revered independence hero, communist collaborator, eccentric playboy, and cunning and sometimes ruthless monarch and prime minister.
First crowned king in 1941, he stepped down in 1953 to pursue a political career. He became head of state and, during the Cold War, tried to steer his country on a neutralist course.
Eventually, however, his country became enmeshed in the conflict in neighboring Vietnam, leading to his first fall from power and culminating in the murderous rule of the communist Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s, during which about 1.7 million of his countrymen perished.
His legacy became tainted because in an effort to regain his political influence, he made common cause with Khmer Rouge, though the regime never yielded power to him and killed five of his children.
After the Khmer Rouge were ousted and Sihanouk regained the throne in 1993, he rebuilt his reputation as the conscience of his country. But Hun Sen, a tough and canny politician who had defected from the Khmer Rouge, undercut his influence, and a discouraged Sihanouk gave up the throne eight years ago. Sihanouk spent much of the rest of his life in China.
The passage of time and Sihanouk’s retreat into quiet retirement in China made the once-dynamic monarch more of a historical figure than a contemporary statesman, but his death was noted internationally.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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