Southeast Asian leaders were headed for Cambodia yesterday to pay their respects to the country’s late former king, who had navigated the kingdom through six turbulent decades.
The prime ministers of Thailand, Vietnam and Laos are scheduled to visit the royal palace, where revered ex-monarch Norodom Sihanouk is lying in state after his body was brought home on Wednesday to a sea of hundreds of thousands of mourners.
They are to be the first foreign leaders to pay their condolences at the palace.
The charismatic royal, known affectionately by his people as the “King-Father,” died of a heart attack in Beijing on Monday aged 89.
The visiting dignitaries are to be greeted by members of the royal family who will take them to the Throne Hall to see the body, according to Sihanouk’s long-time personal assistant, Prince Sisowath Thomico.
“All the children of the King-Father have been asked to help out with receiving delegations from abroad,” he said.
Sihanouk, who towered over Cambodia through decades marked by independence from France, civil war, the murderous Khmer Rouge regime and finally peace, remained hugely popular even after abdicating in favor of his son in 2004 citing old age and ill health.
He will lie in state for the next three months ahead of an elaborate cremation ceremony.
It is not yet known when members of the public will be invited to visit Sihanouk’s body.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the high-ranking visits from neighboring nations showed that Southeast Asian nations were “one family.”
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is expected to be granted an audience with Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni during a one-day visit, her deputy, Yutthasak Sasiprapa, said in Bangkok.
He said the Thai premier had personally called her Cambodian counterpart to smooth ruffled feathers after a Thai TV reporter was pictured standing with her feet near photographs of Sihanouk placed on the ground.
The images spread like wildfire online and upset some Cambodians, prompting an immediate apology from the journalist and her station.