King Father Likely to Be Cremated by February

The late King Father Norodom Sihanouk will likely be cremated by early February and will have a new statue erected in his honor, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Saturday.

The former King died of heart failure in Beijing on October 15.

Speaking at a land-titling ceremony in Kompong Chhnang province, Mr. Hun Sen said the former King’s body would probably be cremated before Chinese New Year, which begins on February 10.

“According to the royal astrologer, he said that the body should be cremated before the Chinese New Year,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “We asked King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother [Norodom Monineath] for the cremation to take place in February and the decision is up to the King and the Queen Mother,” he said.

“The Queen Mother said that when the King Father was alive, he told her that when he died, the funeral should be prepared quickly to avoid affecting the government’s budget too much,” Mr. Hun Sen continued.

“It is a good thing that he thinks about the national budget and it is in honor of the country.”

Mr. Hun Sen, who designated October 15 as an annual day of mourning last week, also said on Saturday that his successor should continue to honor the day.

“I request the next prime minister of Cambodia to take October 15 as a day of mourning if the prime minister is not me,” he said. Mr. Hun Sen is standing for re-election in July, 2013.

A statue in the King Father’s likeness will also be constructed in the park just east of Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument, he added.

Nhiek Bun Chhay, deputy director of the government’s funeral committee for the former King, said the statue would likely stand about 4 meters high and be made of bronze or brass. As for the funeral procession at Norodom Sihanouk’s cremation, he said details were hammered out on Friday.

On the day of the cremation, Mr. Bun Chhay said, the procession will start at the Royal Palace, move to Wat Phnom, then travel down Norodom Boulevard and around the Independence Monument before ending up at the park in front of the National Museum, where the body will be cremated.

Prince Sisowath Thomico, the former King’s cabinet chief, has said that some of the former King’s ashes will be kept in a stupa inside the Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace. But in accordance with Norodom Sihanouk’s wishes, most of his ashes would be sprinkled over the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.

Mr. Bun Chhay added that members of the public were free to visit the King Father’s body in the Royal Palace, but they would first have to send a request to the funeral committee for approval. Groups of up to 15 people from communes or workplaces could also apply, he said.

“We cannot allow them to get inside the Royal Palace as a crowd, because [the room] is too small,” Mr. Bun Chhay said, adding that the funeral committee would set dates for all ap-proved groups to visit.

Outside the Royal Palace yesterday, a large flat-screen television placed on the palace wall showed footage from the ceremonial return of the King Father’s body to Cambodia on October 17. Footage of a tearful King Sihamoni and the Queen Mother greeting mourners was played on a continuous loop and watched by hundreds of mourners who continue to gather at the Palace gates to pray for the former King.

“I really want to go inside the Royal Palace to see him. I really want to see him, with all my heart,” said Yem Panh, 50, from Takeo province. She said she and a group of acquaintances will ask their commune chief to send a request letter to the funeral organizing committee.

(Additional reporting by Dene-Hern Chen)

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