Former Cambodian king Norodom Sihanouk dead at 89 (PHOTOS)


Cambodia’s former king, Norodom Sihanouk (C), speaks during a ceremony as Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni (L) and former queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk (R) look on at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on October 30, 2011



Cambodia's influential former king Norodom Sihanouk died Monday in Beijing at the age of 89, reports Reuters.

Sihanouk was a well respected figure thorough much of Cambodia's tumultuous history. He began his rule over Cambodia in 1941 and led the country to independence from France in 1953.

He held onto the throne until 1955 then abdicated but took up the throne again in 1993, reports the BBC.

In 2004, Sihanouk said his health was failing and abdicated in favor of his son, Norodom Sihamoni.

Prince Sisowath Thomico, a royal family member and Sihanouk's assistant, told AP that the former king had suffered a heart attack at a Beijing hospital.

"His death was a great loss to Cambodia," Thomico said. "King Sihanouk did not belong to his family, he belonged to Cambodia and to history."

Sihanouk was an active figure in Cambodian politics for 60 years. He oversaw the country's transition from French rule to independence, and to the brutal regime of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge to the constitutional monarchy it is today, reports CNN.

In the late 1960s, Sihanouk was unable to stop Cambodian involvement in the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge "killing fields" that followed. 

According to Reuters, the Khmer Rouge held Sihanouk prisoner in his own palace after their 1975 victory. At least 1.8 million people died of starvation, disease, murder or torture during the four years of brutality.

Sihanouk left Cambodia from 1979 to 1991. He was restored to king in 1993 after the country held its first parliamentary elections and Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy, reports CNN.

Author Elizabeth Becker told CNN that Sihanouk's legacy was both good and bad for the country.

"He threw his prestige and politics behind the Khmer Rouge when they started the rebellion and it was his name that helped convince a lot of peasants to go along with the Khmer Rouge," she said.

"Then later, after the Vietnamese invasion, he continued to help the Khmer Rouge at the United Nations with political prestige, so his is a very checkered legacy."

Sihanouk ruled mainly as a figurehead until ill health caused him to leave the throne in 2004.

His body is expected to be returned to Cambodia for an official funeral at the royal palace in Phnom Penh, a Cambodian government spokesman told AP.