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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The 76th Birthday of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia

The 76th Birthday of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia

Commemorative supplement to the Phnom

Penh Post on the auspicious occasion of the 76th Birthday

of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk,

King of Cambodia October 31, 1998



from His Majesty the King

Royal Ballet under the reign of King Sihanouk

suffering of the people...the suffering of the King


Message from His Majesty the King 

I appreciate the invitation from the editor of the

Phnom Penh Post to publish this message on the occasion

of my 76th birthday, and I take this opportunity to pay

tribute to the quality and objectivity of the information

made available through your paper.

So it is that readers of the Phnom Penh Post are

regularly informed of my activities in the service of my

country and people. They are also aware of the extent to

which I am appealed to through correspondences from

people who, choosing deliberately to side-step my advice

and recommendations, hold me responsible for the degraded

situation that prevails in the Kingdom and exhort me to

promote democracy and respect for human rights even more.

Fair-minded observers, however, are very familiar with

the efforts that I have unceasingly put forth to work for

national reconciliation, the spirit of compromise, mutual

tolerance, the disavowal of any recourse to violence,

bloody repression and serious crime that goes totally

unpunished. I have unceasingly exhorted our elected

representatives and our leaders in charge of the

executive to put among their priorities a policy of

sustainable development, friendly to our natural

environment, to put an end to the rampant deforestation,

the brazen looting of our resources, the overly glaring

social inequity, to promote literacy, education, public

health, acceleration of the process of eradicating

landmines and other types of deadly ordnance that pollute

our land and continue to claim so many innocent victims.

I have firmly enjoined them to put an end to all forms

of corruption and prevarication, to pursue relentlessly

the operators of illegal trafficking, including

narcotics, and those many other businesses that involve

the massive exploitation of young women and children of

both sexes in organized prostitution - this country sadly

holds the world record for AIDS - or underground labor

networks, as well as the kidnapping of Khmer and foreign

public figures to extract a ransom out of them.

The first mission of a government worthy of that name

is to ensure public security, promote any development

that is of priority benefit to the domestic market and

public consumption, eradicate the great poverty and

extreme privation that are still the hallmarks of our

little people, open up the isolated regions, see to it

that the judicial administration objectively fulfills its

role, that the armed forces and security forces are able

to perform their public service mission loyally and


My expectation of the newly-elected National Assembly

is that it passes laws in keeping with these objectives,

that the Government resulting from the vote of our people

will take measures in keeping with the aspirations of the

people and the general interests of our nation. Of

course, the spirit of compromise that should inspire all

of our political officials must lead to the appointment

of competent, responsible men and women to the highest

positions of State.

A country such as Cambodia that has been made very

vulnerable, indeed bled dry, by so many years of

suffering and whose borders from before 1970 are still

not internationally recognized and guaranteed, cannot

afford to more or less give up its sovereignty in

consideration for joining a free-trade zone, which can

only be negotiated, in the interests of all parties on a

one-to-one basis with our partners, starting with our own


Such an eventuality can only be contemplated when the

Kingdom will be possessed of the instruments of its

sovereignty: a reliable and truly operational

administration, police forces with the ability to

sustainably ensure public security, an

adequately-equipped, coherent army, driven by a patriotic

spirit, capable of defending our territorial integrity to

the exclusion of other more questionable missions. With

its porous, "mobile" borders, our national

territory is open to all forms of smuggling.

A policy of public cleanup is therefore necessary.

This fundamental concern should transcend all political

cleavages and become the priority objective of the

Government. Political stability along with a management

of public affairs that is sound, honest, transparent and

pro-people is the necessary condition for bringing about

a climate of confidence conducive to the arrival of

serious investors. It is also a prerequisite for our

Kingdom to recover its credibility abroad with

international organizations and for it to regain its seat

at the United Nations.

The international community has poured billions of

dollars into the reconstruction of Cambodia in the form

of multinational and bilateral aid and NGO operations. It

bears its share of responsibility for the proper

management and dispersal of the available funding


As for me, I have always exhorted donors to

scrupulously verify from A to Z the dispersal of funding

assistance and the use of human resources, for the

exclusive use of their beneficiaries and in the

perspective of an eventual take-over by our Khmer

compatriots. This absolute necessity for thoroughness in

monitoring the operations undertaken is a matter of

urgency in this period of international monetary crisis.

We Cambodians are extremely grateful to the

international community for the massive assistance

offered for the rehabilitation of the Kingdom after so

many years of indescribable suffering and turpitude.

But certain powers would pride themselves in promoting

political harmony in Cambodia rather than fanning the

embers by giving their support, open or clandestine, to

such and such a contending clan or pressure group.

Such is the price attached to the future of Cambodia

as a nation and people, free and prosperous. Except that

there are those who wish to see its summary

disappearance, something that will always appeal to

conspirators acting out of faintheartedness or love of

easy gain.


The Royal Ballet under the reign of

King Sihanouk

by Julio A. Jeldres

King Norodom Sihanouk succeeded King Monivong in 1941

at the young age of nineteen. The Protectorate

authorities which had chosen King Sihanouk because he

was, in their view, the most "manageable" among

the Khmer princes that could be King, used the King's

young age to transfer the administration of the Royal

Palace to the Cambodian government, which was under the

control of the French authorities.

This new arrangement almost finished the Royal Ballet

and matters were not helped by the RÈsident SupÈrieur,

who, apparently disinterested in Khmer customs,

traditions and arts, informed Princess Kossamak that the

Royal Ballet had to be sacrificed in the new drive for

economic savings. The RÈsident SupÈrieur also felt that

the private troupe of Say Sangvann could be used when a

classical dance troupe was required for Palace

ceremonies. Princess Kossomak strongly objected to this

arrangement proposed by the French authorities but she

was unable to change the mind of the RÈsident

SupÈrieur, who was bent on saving 600 Riels a month for

the upkeep of the Royal Ballet.

With the help of her son, the newly-crowned King,

Princess Kossomak decided that it was necessary at all

costs to preserve the Royal Ballet. King Sihanouk

provided a monthly allowance from his own limited

resources and the Royal Palace authorities were

instructed to provide lodging for the Royal dancers, some

of whom had served under two or even three Kings and as

soon as the six months of official mourning for King

Monivong were over, training of the Royal Ballet began

again as it had been done in the past.

Princess Kossomak also managed to gather all the

former teachers of the Royal Ballet and they returned to

the Royal Palace to assist in the training of new

recruits. They had all been first dancers of the Royal

Ballet under previous Kings and each was an expert in one

particular role of the many interpreted by the Royal


Thus Princess Kossomak became not only the protector

of the Royal Ballet but also a kind of director, playing

a leading role in the training and changes undertaken by

the troupe. A new choreography, a new order of events

were drawn up for classical dances and the customs were

completely restored and the Royal Ballet was able to put

on a wonderful performance on the occasion of the State

visit to Cambodia of Emperor Bao Dai of Annam (Vietnam)

in 1942.

But is seems that the French authorities were still

not happy with the re-born Royal Ballet and they again

expressed their disapproval of the program and suggested

the troupe's replacement by the private troupe of Svay

Sangvann. King Sihanouk decided that it was time to use

his Royal power to protect the Royal Ballet and after a

dinner given on the occasion of his birthday, he

presented to his guests the new program of the new Royal

Ballet, which definitively won the admiration of those

present including the French authorities.

In this way, the Royal Ballet became the sole

depository of Khmer classical dancing traditions and in

1962 the Royal Ballet was given an administrative

statute, similar to that possessed by national companies

in Europe, such as the Royal Ballet of the United

Kingdom. The statute made clear provisions for every

administrative contingency. In 1962, staff of the Royal

Ballet included two professors, 17 dancing-mistresses,

one principal dancer, five first dancers, 25 dancers, 160

students, 14 dressers and make-up women, four dressmakers

and six apprentices, six custodians of the jewellery, 10

singers, four buffoons, 24 musicians and four musical


Princess Kossomak became Queen Kossomak Nearireath,

upon the abdication of King Norodom Sihanouk in 1955 and

she ensured that the Royal Ballet became one of

Cambodia's most loved and respected institutions. The

Royal Ballet made several trips abroad and was always

perceived as a splendid ambassador for Cambodia.

After the coup d'Ètat of General Lon Nol in March

1970, the Royal Ballet suffered another blow as the

monarchy was abolished with all things related to the

ancient institution. The Royal Ballet went through a

period of turmoil as different military officers tried to

lure dancers into private troupes formed by their wives

or concubines. The Royal Ballet's jewellery disappeared

and its staff were dispersed. The Royal Palace itself

became a museum and Queen Kossomak was held under house

arrest. The republicans were not interested in the

ancient traditions of the Kings of Angkor.

The republicans did not last long and in 1975 they

were overthrown by the Khmer Rouge, who established a

Marxist state where Royal dancing had no place. Many

dancers from what was left of the Royal troupe died under

terrible conditions and the few survivors hid themselves

until after the Vietnamese army had driven the Khmer

Rouge away.

The People's Republic of Kampuchea kept the Royal

Palace as a museum and the survivors of the Royal Ballet

were given space at the Tonle Bassac Theater to rehearse

and train new recruits. Later on, responsibility of the

dance troupe was transferred to the School of Fine Arts.

The troupe was allowed to make a trip abroad in the late

80s but the trip ended with the disappearance of some

dancers who asked for political asylum in the United

States and further trips were immediately halted and

dancers considered untrustworthy by the government.

Following the Paris Peace Agreements of October 1991,

King Sihanouk and other members of the Royal Cambodian

Family returned to Cambodia from exile abroad. Princess

Buppha Devi, daughter of King Sihanouk, who had achieved

renown during the late 60s as principal dancer of the

Royal Ballet, was appointed Vice Minister of Culture and

given responsibility for reinvigorating a new dance troup

that soon afterwards became the Royal Cambodian Ballet.

With the restoration of the monarchy in Cambodia in

September 1993, the Royal Ballet was restored to its

previous position as a "national treasure" and

the graceful dancers continued to provide joy as well as

hope to a great and ancient people still troubled by the

scars of so many years of civil warfare.

-Julio A. Jeldres, His Majesty the King's

official biographer, is the author of the soon-to-be

published book "The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh and

Cambodian Royal Life".


The suffering of the people...the suffering of the King

by Chea Vannath

On the occasion of His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk's

76th birthday, Chea Vannath, President of the Center for

Social Development, reflects on the King's sentiments

toward his beloved people, through his speeches at the

inauguration of the Constituent Assembly on June 14,

1993, and the opening ceremony of the Second Legislature

of the National Assembly on September 24, 1998.

In his 1993 speech, addressing the 120 newly-elected

Members of the Constituent Assembly, the King (then

President of the Supreme National Council of Cambodia)

clearly had high hopes for the new democratic future of

Cambodia. The following are excerpts from an unofficial


"The people of Cambodia ask you to achieve peace,

national reconciliation, national unity, and an end to

civil war throughout our country."

"The people of Cambodia ask you to make Cambodia

a true liberal democracy, unconfounded by anarchy,

autocracy, single party rule or violations of human


"The people of Cambodia ask you to give absolute

priority to raising the standard of living of the

poverty-stricken and the farmers, who together make up

more than 80% of the population."

"The people of Cambodia ask you to revive the

agricultural prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s, by

proceeding with a extensive program of reforestation, as

30% of our forests have disappeared in the last years,

and by practical investment in irrigation."

"The people of Cambodia ask you to stop the

pillage of our national treasures, and restore Angkor to

its former glory."

"The people of Cambodia ask you to provide a

complete and modern education for our children, so that

they can construct a bright future for our country."

The King ended his speech:

"Finally, I appeal solemnly to all parties to

give our beloved Cambodia national, political and

administrative unity, to urgently stop the partition of

the country and to restore a peace that no-one can


Five years and three months later, the King's solemn

appeal has not been answered, and the country and its

people have suffered from the lack of vision, commitment,

and accountability. The King expressed his deep concerns

to the 122 newly-elected National Assembly Members in

Siem Reap city on September 24, 1998. It was clear from

his language that the King took the turmoil of the

country and the suffering of his beloved people very

seriously and personally. The following are excerpts from

his speech:

"I ask you to kindly reach an honorable

compromise among Khmers, a national reconciliation, an

agreement not to return to national division, to internal

quarrels and battles, killing and civil war, and to see

to it that the Cambodians of the 'new' Cambodia have a

reputation and dignity worthy of a race which claims

Angkor as its own."

"I ask our new National Assembly to see to it

that a new Royal Government of Cambodia come to life, as

a symbol of national reconciliation, union and

solidarity, an example of non-corruption, a good

architect capable of rehabilitating and rebuilding

Cambodia, and able to make an effort and sacrifices so

that our country can rapidly rise out of the state of

underdevelopment and develop in all useful domains, and

this for the happiness, peaceful prosperity and freedom

of our people."

"Our new National Assembly and our new Royal

Government have the duty and the obligation to fight

deforestation, the destruction of our natural


"We must refurbish our nation's forests, fight

the extreme poverty of a portion of our population with

perseverance, faith and force, particularly now when an

increasing number of villages lack food."

"We must show resoluteness and method in fighting

the most dangerous diseases afflicting an increasing

number of our compatriots, babies, children, adults, the

aged, both men and women."

"Our People's future is in serious jeopardy. We

must fight the landmines which are still in our


"It is our obligation to turn our Cambodia into a

law-abiding state in all its aspects and characteristics

and to respect all parts and articles of our 1993

Constitution, both literally and in its spirit."

"We must scrupulously respect human rights,

women's rights and children's rights."

"Finally, Cambodia must become an authentic

liberal democracy. Our people, our monks, so fond of

justice, peace and freedom in non-violence, are claiming

such a state and rightly so."

"May our eminent representatives not lose sight

of the fact that our people are first and foremost

claiming peace with freedom."

These desperate appeals for peace show the depth of

the King Sihanouk's suffering for his people.

As a constitutional monarch, freed from the burden of

wielding major political power, the King has a clear

vision for the future of Cambodia - a vision others would

be wise to share. He remains a source of great moral

authority for the people, and a symbol of hope for peace,

with dignity, for the country.






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