King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monineath (R) board a flight to Beijing in Siem Reap, 1997. Photograph: Reuters
Julio Jeldres, royal biographer for the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, wasn’t pleased with appraisals that appeared in the media after the storied Cambodian monarch’s death on October 15 in Beijing.
In a new book due out later this month, though, Jeldres tries to, in his words, “set the record straight”.
“I find it quite irritating and offensive to read some of the obituaries that had been written by some people that never met the King Father but think they are experts on Cambodia,” he said in an email exchange.
Responding to an obituary that ran in a national magazine based in the United States that touched on Sihanouk’s supposed taste for high-end living under the Khmer Rouge – including the claim that he was allowed to keep a pet terrier with him and eat delicacies when most of the country was starving – Jeldres called the facts into question.
Sihanouk had initially supported the Khmer Rouge, who later put him under house arrest and murdered many members of his family.
“Where could Their Majesties buy French food in Cambodia if everything was shut down? Even diplomatic missions at the time were fed daily by the Khmer Rouge ministry of foreign affairs, because they could not buy food, let alone ‘French food’.”
The new book, one of several written by Jeldres over the years in his various capacities as translator, court scribe and amanuensis, is not exactly a straight-up biography.
Jeldres said that the text will commemorate Sihanouk’s record of achievements; from the period he was crowned King by the French in 1941 at the age of 19 up to one of his last official functions in Beijing, where he often sought medical care. He died there just shy of his 90th birthday.
As it stands, the book is being printed in English language-only editions, but Jeldres hopes to get it translated into Khmer.
To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Freeman at [email protected]