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Queen Mother’s wartime journal of 1973 unveiled

Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk poses for photos at Banteay Srei Temple in Siem Reap province in 1973. DC-CAM
Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk poses for photos at Banteay Srei Temple in Siem Reap province in 1973. DC-CAM

Queen Mother’s wartime journal of 1973 unveiled

Marking the 50th anniversary of Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk’s historic journey to Cambodia amid armed conflict, the Queen Mother Library has released a Khmer translation of her 1973 diary.

Entitled Witness to History – The Journal of Cambodia’s Queen Mother, the book provides insights into her observations and experiences during her journey with the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk to the liberated zone of the National United Front of Kampuchea.

The book is available to readers free of charge and has been prepared by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) for distribution.

DC-Cam executive director Youk Chhang invites all interested readers to connect.

“Get in touch with the Sleuk Rith Institute via Facebook to get a copy. It’s free for everyone and we’ve already printed 35,000 copies this year,” Chhang told The Post.

According to Youk Chhang, the journey served several purposes: First, to survey Cambodia’s eastern border land that had been inaccessible for three years due to the ongoing conflict, bombing and occupation at that time. The second purpose was to meet with Cambodian citizens in the region to assess their status and needs. The third was to reassure compatriots that the royal couple were leaders of the Cambodian resistance movement.

In a letter addressed to Youk Chhang, the Queen Mother expressed deep gratitude for receiving 1,000 copies of the book translated into the Khmer language.

She commemorated the anniversary, stating: “2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the journey, during which I accompanied His Majesty the King [Sihanouk] to the National United Front of Kampuchea liberated zone.”

Chhang revealed plans to print 35,000 copies of the 118-page Khmer edition annually from 2023 to 2025. He confirmed these would be distributed to genuine readers at no cost.

“His Majesty the King [Father] and the Queen Mother have done so much for the country. I want all young people to be aware. Her book is living proof of her work,” he told The Post.

In his preface, Chhang noted that the book reflects the original, unedited thoughts of the Queen Mother during the 1973 perilous journey, which spanned from Beijing to Hanoi and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province.

Despite the turmoil of the time, the Queen Mother’s writings display her grace and elegance. They provide insights into Cambodia’s history and illustrate the enduring human spirit even in the most challenging circumstances.

The diary not only records the devastation of war but also emphasises the wonders and triumphs of the landscape.

Chhang’s preface indicates that her writings are “an inspirational and informative resource for both current political leaders and ordinary citizens”.

The Queen Mother’s grace and resilience serve as a symbol of Cambodia’s capacity to overcome adversity, embodying the unyielding spirit of the Cambodian people.

Ambassador Julio A Jeldres, who translated the book from French and arranged for it to be printed in Khmer, describes it as a unique, historical document authored by the Queen Mother in March-April 1973. Jeldres served for 12 years as senior private secretary to the late King Father.

As a Vietnamese leader recently stated, “Her Majesty is the only person from that historical period still alive”.

The journey spanned approximately 39 days and was divided into four distinct parts. It began with the departure from Beijing, followed by the arrival in Cambodia, interactions with the people, and concluded with the return to China.

In the first part of the diary, the Queen Mother writes: “I have never kept a travel journal before. But today, I will start writing up my impressions because the trip, which we are about to begin in a few days’ time, is a historic trip”.

Her closing remarks express the emotional resonance of returning home, “We thus left at about 3am in the morning, very happy thinking that in a few hours we shall be arriving at our homeland. I cannot describe the emotion I feel! I truly regret not being a poet, to transcribe in this journal, what I would feel, the moment when I shall see my homeland again!”

The Queen Mother Library, established by DC-Cam, serves as a tribute to the Queen Mother. Throughout her life, she has devoted herself to serving Cambodia, alongside the late King Father, and the people of Cambodia.

To obtain a copy of the Khmer translation of the Queen Mother’s travel journal, readers can contact the Sleuk Rith Institute through their Facebook page.

Over 2,000 copies have been delivered to the offices of DC-Cam in Takeo, Prey Veng, Oddar Meanchey, Pursat, Tboung Khmum and Kampong Chhnang provinces, where they can be requested free of charge.

According to Sopheak Pheana, director of mass communications at DC-Cam, people can also reserve their books by contacting 012 882 505 or messaging the Sleuk Rith Institute’s Facebook page.


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