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LinkAsia | Oct 22
Cambodia's former King Norodom Sihanouk is known both as the father of Cambodian independence as well as a key figure in the rise of the genocidal ...
Upon learning of Sihanouk's passing this week, netizens in Cambodia had mixed emotions. For more on social media's response to Sihanouk's legacy, we turn to our contributor in Phnom Penh, Justine Drennan.
After being crowned in 1941, Sihanouk played many parts. He served as Prime Minister from 1955 until he was deposed in a 1970 coup, kept a degree of power through shifting alliances before and after the Khmer Rouge regime, and was restored as king in the 90s.
Through it all, he remained a beloved symbol of unity for the Cambodian people. And in death he has received universally positive attention from the Khmer language social media.
But up for debate is what his death means - or doesn't mean - for Cambodia's future.
One commenter on Voice of America's Facebook page says, "I don't think his Highness's death will affect our country's stability. His Highness was the symbol of peace for every Cambodian. But he already transferred his duty as king to his son. And it isn't a problem nationally because our country is a democracy, so the king himself doesn't hold any power."
But others play up the former king's political role. This user writes, "His Highness gained our independence from France on November 9th, 1953. Besides this huge achievement, he was also the one who reconciled Cambodia with itself and with other countries.
"The commenter is referring to Sihanouk's leadership as Cambodia emerged from the chaos of the Khmer Rouge era. The same user adds: "Without his Highness, there will never be peace in Cambodia." Khmer-language commenters do not refer to Sihanouk's temporary alliance with the Khmer Rouge.
But one writes, "Even though his Highness is gone, an important question remains for Cambodia: Who is the real murderer of millions of people?"
This question continues to be examined under the international and Cambodian microscope at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, a UN-backed court considering the guilt of the top leaders of the regime that has been called genocidal. As the hearings continue, Sihanouk, in his many roles, will live on in international as well as Cambodian consciousness.
Justine, before you go - Sihanouk's body was brought back to Cambodia on Wednesday, what was the scene like in Phnom Penh?
By early afternoon people were basically standing shoulder to shoulder on all of the nearby streets around where they were taking the body from the airport to the royal palace, and pretty much everyone was wearing white shirts with black commemorative ribbons and very freely expressed how sad and distressed they were about the King Father's death. Mourning will continue officially for one week, but after that the body will be displayed in the royal palace for three more months so that mourners can continue to pay their respects, after which it will be cremated and put into an urn in a stupa in the royal palace.
Thanks. Justine Drennan is a journalist based in Phnom Penh.