The ashes of Cambodia’s former king Norodom Sihanouk, who died nearly two years ago, were paraded Friday through the streets of Phnom Penh ahead of their interment on Saturday at the Royal Palace.
Thousands of monks, government officials, students, and villagers in mourning dress attended the religious parade in which three diamond-studded gold and marble urns containing the remains of the revered monarch were borne through the capital in an elaborate procession.
The ashes will be interred on Saturday in a stupa in the Silver Pagoda in the Royal Palace alongside the remains of his favorite daughter Kantha Bopha in line with Sihanouk’s last wish.
“The retired king will stay in peace forever in the stupa,” Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol said.
Sihanouk’s body was cremated in February last year after lying in state for three months. Some of his remains were lowered into the confluence of the Mekong, Tonle Sap, and Tonle Bassac rivers in the capital.
Sihanouk's widow Queen Monique, his son the current King Norodom Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his cabinet members, and foreign diplomats attended the final farewell ceremony.
King Sihanouk’s death at the age of 89 in October 2012 after suffering a heart attack at a hospital in Beijing saw an outpouring of grief for the former ruler, who was beloved by his Cambodian subjects.
Koam Chhuon, a 93-year-old villager from Kompong Cham province, traveled hours to the city to bid farewell to Sihanouk.
“I still miss the retired King,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “He was a nationalist and helped his compatriots when he was alive,” he said.
Koam Chhuon said that the retired King allowed him into his palace once to help resolve a land dispute.
“When I arrived at the palace, he gave us a donation and enough food to eat. I cried when he passed away, and I still cry now.”
Chhoun Sam, 81, who also attended the ceremony, said her husband once served as a guard for the retired King.
“I will miss him. He loved his country so much. I wish his soul returns to bless us with happiness and makes all the Khmer people be united.”