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Prince Vatvani dies at age 77

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Mourners pray in front of a shrine dedicated to the late Prince Norodom Vatvani, Monday, Dec. 24, 2012. Photograph: Pha Lina /Phnom Penh Post

Prince Norodom Vatvani passed away peacefully at the age of 77 on Sunday evening after a years-long battle with heart disease, members of the royal family said yesterday.

According to his daughter, Post columnist Princess Soma Norodom, Vatvani had struggled with illness for years due to, among other things, a heart condition and diabetes.

His body is being kept at Than Pagoda in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district until Thursday’s cremation, she said.  

King Norodom Sihamoni was scheduled to pay his respects last night.

During the Cambodian civil war, said Princess Soma, Vatvani trained Khmer pilots for the US Air Force in Thailand. 

When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975, she added, Vatvani, his family and many of his trainees were among the first refugees to be sent to the US.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, she continued, Vatvani was “one of the first people to come and rebuild the country”.

Vatvani was in the Royal Air Force’s first graduating class of pilots, and was commander-in-chief of the air force from 1993 to 1997. 

He was also a founding member of the Cambodian Veterans Association.

His nephew, Prince Sisowath Chakrey Nuokpol, said that Vatvani had helped the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk build the Funcinpec party.

However, his daughter said, Vatvani “didn’t love politics”.

“He loved the air force,” she said. “He loved planes. He taught all the members of the royal family how to jump out of a plane.”

According to Princess Soma, Vatvani was survived by six children, most of whom live in the United States.

Prince Chakrey Noukpol, a nephew of the late prince, characterised his uncle as someone who had always worked hard for the royal family.

“On behalf of the royal family in this generation, and as a nephew favoured by Norodom Vatvani, we are so regretful and so shocked that the royal family lost him after our late King Norodom Sihanouk passed away recently,” he said. 

To contact the reporter on this story: Sen David at david.sen@phnompenhpost.com

With assistance from Stuart White

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