Sunday February 3, 2013
French PM pays tribute to Cambodia's ex-king
PHNOM PENH - French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Sunday paid tribute to Cambodia's late former king Norodom Sihanouk, a passionate francophile who won independence from the one-time colonial power.
Sihanouk, who died of a heart attack in October in Beijing aged 89, was known for his taste for champagne and foie gras as well as for his hand-written notes in French that in his later years were posted on his website.
"For a small country like Cambodia, Sihanouk's name is known in France. He's someone who spoke our language wonderfully," Ayrault told reporters after arriving in Phnom Penh where he will attend Sihanouk's cremation on Monday.
He hailed the "very strong and affectionate relations" between France and Sihanouk.
The flamboyant royal was placed on the throne at the age of 18 in 1941 by French colonial authorities.
Twelve years later he gained Cambodia's independence and shortly afterwards quit the throne in favour of his father to pursue a career in politics.
Twice exiled and twice returned to the throne, Sihanouk abruptly abdicated in 2004 as old age and poor health took their toll on the colourful monarch.
Ayrault will be the highest-ranking European representative to attend Monday's cremation at a specially built funeral pyre in a park near the royal palace.
He will also hold meetings with Prime Minister Hun Sen as well as his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung, who will also attend the ceremony, before travelling to Thailand on Monday for an official visit. - AFP