‘The Lesser Evil’: An Interview with Norodom Sihanouk

Prince Norodom Sihanouk was king of Cambodia from 1941 to 1955. After forcing the French to grant independence to Cambodia, Sihanouk abdicated and ruled as an elected head of state until he was overthrown in a coup d’état in 1970. Sihanouk became the nominal head of an opposition coalition, dominated by the Khmer Rouge, which defeated General Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic in a civil war which ended in 1975. The Khmer Rouge put Sihanouk under house arrest where he remained until the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in January 1979.

In 1982 Sihanouk became president of the tripartite “Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea,” which includes the Khmer Rouge and forces loyal to former Prime Minister Son Sann. The coalition is fighting a guerrilla resistance against the Heng Samrin regime, which is backed by the Vietnamese occupation and controls most of Cambodia. The coalition government, however, is recognized by the United Nations and most of the countries outside the Soviet bloc as the legitimate government of Cambodia.

Thus Sihanouk is once again de jure head of state. Recently, on February 9, he visited the Cambodian town of Phum Thmey in the coalition’s “liberated zone” and there accepted the credentials of ambassadors from Senegal, North Korea, Bangladesh, and Mauritania. We spoke with him late last year in New York, where he had just finished addressing the United Nations General Assembly. The interview was conducted in English.

David Ablin
Marlowe Hood

Q: Your Royal Highness, we would like to ask you some questions about the contemporary situation, but since your views on that are better known, we would like to begin by asking you a few historical questions. In light of the events in Cambodia of the last fifteen years, is there anything that you would have done differently from 1945 to 1970?

A: You know I have always been dedicated to my homeland. I try to give happiness, some prosperity, and education to my people. I want my country to be independent, always independent. I have to defend my convictions as a patriot and as a national leader. I have done my best, but as a human being I cannot be perfect, nobody is perfect. Even your presidents in the contemporary history of the United States have only been able to do their best. President Carter is now so often criticized, but he did his best, and President Nixon as a patriot, as a human being, he could not avoid mistakes. I have made mistakes, but I cannot blame myself, not because I have pride, but you know I am not God, I am not a Buddha, I am not Christ.

There are good and bad aspects in me as a normal human being, but you must compare me with the other leaders in the contemporary history of Cambodia. I don’t think that Lon Nol was better. Lon Nol enjoyed your full support during the war and he lost the war. The Americans lost the war in Indochina because America…

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