Norodom Sihanouk's official biographer pays tribute | Connect Asia

Norodom Sihanouk's official biographer pays tribute

Norodom Sihanouk's official biographer pays tribute

Updated 15 October 2012, 15:46 AEDT

Norodom Sihanouk was a passionate film-maker, actor, musician.

The strong impressions he made on the many diplomats and reporters who met him, have become the stuff of folklore in Cambodia.

Julio Jeldres, was a former private secretary to King Sihanouk and was his official biographer.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Julio Jeldres, former King Sihanouk official biographer, currently an adjunct research fellow at Monash University

JELDRES: He was very weak, because he had developed some heart disease and his heart was quite weak.

I was there until the 30th. September, and so yes, he was quite weak and the doctor was thinking of taking him to hospital again, but he didn't really want to go to hospital. He wanted to stay at his residence.

COCHRANE: And were you able to speak with him?

JELDRES: Yes, we exchanged some words, but recently he didn't say much. He just sat there, always a smiling, always smiling, but he didn't say much, yes.

COCHRANE: We'll talk a lot more about his life in a moment. But just briefly, can you tell us anything more about his death?

JELDRES: Well, all I know is that he had some chest pains and was taken to hospital in Beijing and then he had a heart attack there and the doctor tried to help him by doing an operation, but it didn't work out.

COCHRANE: How do you think his death will be received by the people of Cambodia?

JELDRES: I think that the people are going to be very sad, because it's the end of an era. He is considered the father of Cambodia independence. He was the only politician and the only member of the Royal Family in Cambodia's history that managed to establish such a close relationship to the rural population of Cambodia, which is about 90 per cent of the population of the country.

COCHRANE: You obviously had a close relationship with him working as his private secretary and also as his official biographer. How are you feeling this morning?

JELDRES: I feel very sad and quite shocked, yes. Yes, I didn't expect him to pass away so sudden. I was still hoping that Chinese medicine was going to keep him alive, at least until his birthday that is coming in two weeks time.

COCHRANE: He was a fascinating leader, described as being very charming, sometimes controversial, mercurial is the word very often used by the Western press. His life as we've just heard from Zoe Daniel's package there was so entwined with the history of Cambodia and of South East Asia more generally. How do you think Norodom Sihanouk will be remembered as a political leader?

JELDRES: I think first of all, he was misunderstood, because he was trying to do, his ambition in life was to keep his country free, independent and with his territorial integrity protected, because that was the main concern that he had, that if he didn't protect the territorial integrity of Cambodia, it was going to be lost to the neighbours, as it had happened in the past already. And so that was his main ambition in life, it was to protect Cambodia and to give a reasonable standard of living to the people.

COCHRANE: What do you think this means for the future of the monarchy in Cambodia?

JELDRES: That I am not sure. I am not sure. There is a King there that is doing all the right things. At the moment, he's following on the steps of his father. He's visiting the people constantly, trying to establish the same rapport that King Sihanouk had with the people. So I am hopeful that the monarchy will continue in Cambodia.

COCHRANE: I know we've just learnt of the former King's death and it is very early days. But, are you aware of the what the protocol will be from here as far as his funeral and any ceremonies in Cambodia?

JELDRES: Well, my understanding is that His Majesty the King, and the Prime Minister, Hun Sen, are flying to Beijing this morning from Cambodia and I am not sure whether they are going to bring the body back to Cambodia for Buddhist ceremonies, but Buddhist ceremonies for a King sometimes take up to three months for the final burial, so I haven't heard any more details because it's too early.


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