His Royal Highness Samdech Sisowath Chivan Monireak, the last surviving son of King Sisowath Monivong, died peacefully in Phnom Penh on the morning of December 28, 2016. The Prince was born on February 1, 1936 in Phnom Penh, son of His Late Majesty King Sisowath Monivong and Khun Preah Moneang Norleak Yin That.
The Prince undertook his primary and secondary schooling in Phnom Penh and then joined the Academy of the Royal Cambodian Air Force, from where he graduated in 1956.
He also undertook training at the French Air Force base in Marrakesh, Morocco, the Williams US Air Force base in Arizona, where he graduated as a jet pilot, and at the French Air Force base in Tours, France.
During 1968-69, Samdech Chivan Monireak joined the Royal Infantry Academy and graduated as Battalion Commander/Staff Officer.
In November 1973, following the intervention of the US president, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sisowath Kossamak, eldest sister of Samdech Chivan Monireak and mother of His Late Majesty the King Father, was allowed by the Lon Nol regime to seek medical treatment in China. Samdech Chivan Monireak and his family accompanied the then Queen Mother to China, and he joined the National Liberation Front of Kampuchea (FUNC) and was appointed to the Foreign Ministry of the Royal Government of National Union of Cambodia, established by the late King Father in May 1970, following the Lon Nol coup.
Immediately after the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975, the Prince left China for the former Yugoslavia, where he was the guest of President Josep Broz Tito and received further training with the Yugoslav Air Force, graduating as a senior air force officer.
In late 1976 he moved to France, and in 1981 he was granted permanent residence in the United States. Establishing in California, he initially helped in the settlement of Cambodian refugees fleeing Pol Pot’s inferno for the United States and then in the private sector.
He was also employed as an actor in two Oscar-awarded films, The Killing Fields (1984) and The Mission (1986), with leading film stars Robert Di Nero, Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson.
Samdech Chivan Monireak returned to Cambodia in July 1994 and was appointed chairman of Kampuchea Airlines, later to become Royal Air Cambodge, but resigned a year later.
He was then appointed military advisor to the then First Prime Minister of the Royal Government of National Union of Cambodia.
In 1997 the prince was appointed Privy Counsellor to His Majesty the King, and in March 1999 he was appointed a Senator and elected First Vice President of the Senate in representation of the royalist FUNCINPEC Party. He was elevated to the rank of Sdech Krom Khun in 2000 and to the rank of Samdech in 2004.
Samdech Chivan Monireak resigned from the Senate in 2012 while remaining as Privy Counsellor to His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni, with the protocol rank of Deputy Prime Minister.After his retirement from public life, the Prince dedicated much of his time to meditation, visiting holy Buddhist shrines in Asia, and his favourite charities. But his life-consuming love was aviation and planes.
Samdech Chivan Monireak married several times and fathered 12 children, but seven of them died during the Pol Pot regime.
He is survived by his wife Neak Moneang Sisowath Kanthireth, who he married in 1989, and five children from different marriages: HRH Prince Sisowath Chivannariddh, HRH Prince Sisowath Weakchiravudd, HH Princess Sisowath Bophany, HH Princess Sisowath Kesan Mony and HH Princess Sisowath Reaksa Sachakvong.
Ambassador Julio A Jeldres, PhD, is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the School of History and Philosophical studies of Monash University in Australia, and a Counsellor to the Cabinet of HM the King Norodom Sihamoni.