|Cambodia's Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk (1st L) and King Norodom Sihamoni (2nd L) attend the royal cremation ceremony of the late Cambodian King Father Norodom Sihanouk in Phnom Penh, on Feb. 4, 2013. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)
by Nguon Sovan
PHNOM PENH, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- Huge throngs of Cambodian people shed tears on Monday evening when participating the royal cremation ceremony of the country's late former King Norodom Sihanouk at a city park next to the royal palace.
The cremation was made at the Veal Preah Meru Square next to the Royal Palace in an elaborate Buddhist ceremony, which was live broadcast through all local television channels from the start to the end.
The somber event was attended by Cambodian leaders including President of the Senate Chea Sim, President of the National Assembly Heng Samrin and Prime Minister Hun Sen as well as royal families and other senior officials.
Besides, foreign leaders and dignitaries from 16 countries had participated in the ceremony. Among them are Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Vice President of the Philippines Jejomar C. Binay, and Japan's Prince Akishino.
After 90 Buddhist monks chanted in a religious language, and all participating foreign leaders and foreign diplomats paid their last respects and laid flowers nearby the golden casket bearing Sihanouk's body, Sihanouk's wife Queen Mother Norodom Monineath and his son King Norodom Sihamoni lit the funeral flame at the newly constructed cremation site at 6:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, the 101-gun artilleries salute and fireworks were fired simultaneously into the sky in order to honor the late monarch, while blue music was played.
Tens of thousands of mourners clad in white shirts and pinning black ribbons clasped hands together in prayers and looked sadly and tearfully while the funeral flame was burning.
"His Majesty the King Father, you left us," tearfully said a Phnom Penh native Kuth Sotheachan, 47, while looking at the cremation ceremony from the distance. "We wish you would be reborn in the heaven in your next life, His Majesty."
A Kampong Speu province resident Phan Roeun, 58, sadly said, " I come here to see him off because this is the last day that the body of His Majesty the King Father is on earth, from tomorrow, we will no longer see his face forever."
"He was a great King in our minds, we will remember him in our hearts forever," he said.
Another mourner Yam Sokly said, "It is a great loss for Cambodia, we now lost an elite hero."
He said the late King Father was the King who devoted himself to national defense and development. "His greatest achievement was the gaining of independence for Cambodia from France in 1953."
At the cremation ceremony, King Norodom Sihamoni also granted a royal pardon to 412 prisoners as a gesture to mark Sihanouk's cremation.
The pardoned prisoners from all prisons throughout the country were taken to release at the cremation side.
"From now on, all of you are freed and can go back to meet your families, relatives and friends," King Norodom Sihamoni spoke to those freed prisoners. "I urge you all to correct yourselves to become good citizens in the society."
Sihanouk died at the age of 90 in China's capital of Beijing on October 15, last year due to natural causes. He suffered from various forms of cancer, diabetes and hypertension and had been treated by Chinese doctors in Beijing for years before his death.
The late monarch reigned over Cambodia from 1941 to 1955 and again from 1993 until his voluntary abdication on October 7, 2004 in favor of his son, the current King Norodom Sihamoni.
He was a presence through decades of political and social turmoil in Cambodia, despite long periods of exile overseas.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a recently public speech that Sihanouk's funeral was the largest of all in the country's king funeral history.
"We hold it in order to express our deepest gratitude to the King Father for his royal crusades to gain independence from France in 1953 and led national construction from 1954 to 1970," he said. "The funeral gives us the chance to bid a final farewell to him."
Prince Sisowath Thomico, the spokesman for the Royal Cabinet and former aide to the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, said that Sihanouk's death was not only the great loss for Cambodia, but also the loss of one of the most important leaders in Southeast Asia.
"His passing-away was the great loss for the people of Cambodia because he was one of the most revered Cambodian leaders since the beginning of the 20th century," he told Xinhua.
He added that the late King Father had greatly developed Cambodia in the 1950s until the 1960s, turning the country as the most advanced country in Southeast Asia at that time.
At regional and international levels, the Prince said that Sihanouk was also a respected leader recognized by some nations in Southeast Asia and in the world.
He recalled that in 1956, Cambodia was a member and a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, and then-Prime Sihanouk was recognized as a very active leader for the decolonization.
"He helped every country in the world and he supported the independence of every country in the world. There were African countries such as Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Senegal." he said.
"He was the first leader in the world to recognize the Republic of Singapore when Singapore became independence," he said. "I think he was one of the most important leaders of Southeast Asia."
Asking about Sihanouk's role in developing Sino-Cambodian ties, the Prince said that the late King Father was the founder of the diplomatic relation between Cambodia and China in 1958.
"Since then, Cambodia and China began to build up relationship based on mutual respect, based on the same vision of the region and the same vision of the world," he said.
In regard to Jia Qinglin's participation in the cremation ceremony, the Prince said Jia's presence was a big honor for Cambodia.
"It is the symbol of the friendship and the fraternity that links Cambodia to China; it is a big honor for Cambodia to have a respected leader of the People Republic of China attending the royal funeral," he said.
"Both countries are linked together. I do not believe that anything could break that relationship, and we will further improve cooperation, friendship relations with the People Republic of China," the Prince added.