The cremation of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, whose body has been lying in state since his death last month, will take place in the first week of February in front of the National Museum.
Speaking to thousands of villagers and government officials at a ground breaking ceremony, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday Sihanouk’s corpse would be removed from the Royal Palace on February 1 and, after it had laid in an adjacent crematorium for three days, officials would perform the final rite on February 4.
The crematorium is now under construction on the grassy grounds in front of the museum.
The premier said the procession, beginning at the Royal Palace, would crawl north to Wat Phnom, double back to the Independence Monument, and end up in front of the museum.
Out of respect for Sihanouk’s death on October 15 in Beijing, officials cancelled this year’s Water Festival, which begins today.
In the same speech yesterday, Hun Sen explained why it was fitting to let the festivities pass without official notice.
“It is inappropriate for millions of Cambodian people to celebrate the Water Festival in front of the Royal Palace at this time of mourning, [ I ] hope that our people are understanding and will give this favour, because we had only one father,” he said.
Although the cremation will be a solemn affair, officials are expecting crowds to rival the hundreds of thousands who turned out for the funeral procession from the airport to the Royal Palace last month.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said yesterday authorities were prepared for at least one million Cambodians to attend, and that the ministry would set up a large screen in public for a live simulcast.
Sihanouk, revered by many Cambodians for helping them gain independence from France in 1953 and the periods of prosperity that followed, died of a heart attack at the age of 89.
His body was returned to Phnom Penh on an Air China flight two days later.
After a week of mourning, he was moved to lie in state for a planned three-month period at the Royal Palace.
Many officials who attended the ASEAN summit last week visited the palace to pay their respects.
To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at [email protected]