- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — ‘I thank you for insulting me.” Thus blogged former King Norodom Sihanouk to a critic of his support of same-sex “marriage.”

He didn’t share any of the insulting e-mails with his readers, but noted: “My country, Cambodia, has chosen to be a liberal democracy since 1993. Every Cambodian … including the King has the right to express freely their view.”

It is one of thousands of commentaries that fill the Web site of the world’s most colorful and pugnacious royal blogger, offering Sihanouk’s views on anything from environmental rape through Hollywood stars and killer spouses to the rough-and-tumble of Cambodian politics.

Sihanouk has been a giant on the Asian political scene for 50 years. He took on the French empire to win Cambodia’s independence. During the Vietnam War, he was such a nuisance to Washington that he was ousted in a U.S.-supported coup. He backed the Khmer Rouge until its murderous regime turned on him and put him under house arrest.

Today, at 82, he is Cambodia’s lion in winter, cancer-stricken and undergoing treatment in China, his former place of exile where he still has a home. Yet he is as sharp-tongued and loquacious as ever. The man who grew up on cowboy movies has taken to the World Wide Web with equal gusto.

For at least three years, he has been posting his opinions, historical documents and exchanges with diplomats or Cambodian politicians. He abdicated in favor of his son Norodom Sihamoni last fall, and is in and out of the hospital, but the Internet keeps him in the public eye.

Sihanouk’s Web site (www.norodomsihanouk.info), which incorporates his blog in French, Khmer or English, attracts about 1,000 visitors daily from around the world. After serving as king, president and prime minister at various times, he calls himself “a senior citizen who hasn’t any official power,” but his views remain relevant enough to be summarized in the Cambodian press for the benefit of the many Cambodians who are too poor to have access to the Internet.

Sihanouk’s site doesn’t have all the technical bells and whistles that fit the purist definition of a Web log — the computer term from which the world’s 10 million bloggers derive their title.

That caveat aside, Sihanouk is making “incredibly innovative use of the Internet to be able to communicate directly with the people of Cambodia and the people of the world,” said David L. Sifry, whose company Technorati tracks blogs.

No surprise there. Sihanouk always has seen himself as a communicator and a trendsetter. He has been a filmmaker, painter, composer and singer, has led a jazz band and has fielded a palace soccer team.

His charm and self-dramatizing pronouncements are still evident on his blog. After the 2003 national elections, he described the losses suffered by Funcinpec — a party led by one of his sons — as “shameful,” comparing it to Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.

Then came the about-face: “Papa presents you and Funcinpec his humble apologies, with sincerity and great regret for the writings.”

Here is a bit of vintage Sihanouk online, translated from French by the Associated Press:

After asking his staff to send money and rice to the widow of a politician axed to death, he writes, “Surprise! ‘The assassin’ so cruel … is no other than his own wife, who finds herself in prison!! My aforementioned help couldn’t be given to this widow, murderer of her own husband.”

Sihanouk waxes nostalgic for Ken Maynard, a Hollywood star in the 1920s and ‘30s. He “was my idol as a cowboy ‘dispenser of justice.’ He had an incomparably beautiful white horse who was as intelligent as a man and behaved like an angel.” He never missed a Maynard movie in Phnom Penh, and when his father bought him two horses, “I could practice horse riding ‘a la cowboy.’ ”

The postings aren’t all so benign. He has angered Prime Minister Hun Sen with caustic critiques of Cambodian society and politics penned by one Ruom Ritt, a supposed childhood pen pal. Sihanouk has claimed he lives in France but also has referred to him as “my alter ego.”

His Majesty recently pulled the plug on Ritt after Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge soldier, publicly wished the mystery man an early demise. To readers who asked to have him back, Sihanouk blogged on April 15 that “Ritt, my alter ego, has just received, for the third time in the space of a few years, an ‘atomic bomb’ that obviously kills our desire to continue writing about Cambodia today. … Thank you very much for your noble understanding.”

Sihanouk often lets fly with his own views on Cambodia’s social ills — illegal logging that threatens to turn the country into a “tiny Sahara without oil,” the trafficking of Cambodian women for prostitution in other Asian countries where they “suffer, are humiliated,” their impoverished parents helpless to intervene.

After watching TV images of same-sex “weddings” in San Francisco in February 2004, he wrote that Cambodia should do the same, never expecting that his input “would become the source of endless ‘earthquakes’ throughout the world.”

Along with “innumerable messages of sympathy, ‘congratulations’ … thanks, I received and, without doubt, will receive messages of disapproval, contempt, insult.”

Sihanouk’s missives also shed light on his personal life, including what he says are his numerous wives, though that was in the 1940s, when “my love life was somewhat … stormy. But I became a monogamist a long time ago.” He has been married to former Queen Monineath for more than 50 years.

He recently blogged that his cancer has re-emerged from remission, but upon learning that a magazine was preparing his obituary, he told his readers: “Even today, Friday the 13th, I am not yet aware of my death. Maybe I am already dead. But I will continue to believe that I am alive.”

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