PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia inaugurated a $1.2 million monument Friday honoring its late King Norodom Sihanouk, who led the struggle for independence but whose political maneuvering helped plunge the country into genocidal rule by the communist Khmer Rouge.
After eight months of construction, the government unveiled a 4.5-meter (15-foot) bronze statue of Sihanouk, which stands inside a 27-meter- (100-foot-) tall shrine in the capital, Phnom Penh.
Despite his links with the Khmer Rouge, Sihanouk remained a popular, even revered figure, associated with a simpler, peaceful Cambodia before it was drawn into the Vietnam War and its own bloody civil conflict.
In the months after his Oct. 15, 2012, death at age 89, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians paid their respects at the royal palace to the leader who referred to himself as their “Papa.”
After being ousted in a 1970 coup, Sihanouk allied himself with the Khmer Rouge, who used his popularity to recruit for their fight to replace a pro-American regime in Phnom Penh. When the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, they made a prisoner of Sihanouk as they embarked on a reign of terror that cost the lives of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians and ended in 1979 after an invasion by Vietnam.
In his later years, Sihanouk lost his dominating influence to Hun Sen, a defector from the Khmer Rouge who was appointed prime minister in 1985, a position he still holds.
Sihanouk resumed the kingship in 1993, but in ill health and under pressure, abdicated in 2004 in favor of his son Norodom Sihamoni, whose interests were more cultural than political.
Hun Sen and Sihamoni attended the inauguration of the statue, located in a park on Sihanouk Boulevard.
Sihamoni is widely seen as a weak monarch susceptible to pressure from Hun Sen.
Associated Press writer Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.