15 Oct 2012

Former Cambodian king dies in China

8:40 pm on 15 October 2012

Former King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia has died in China.

A personal assistant to the king said he died of a heart attack in a hospital in Beijing at 2.25am on Monday.

Xinhua news agency said Deputy Prime Minister Nhik Bun Chhay of Cambodia had confirmed the announcement.

Sihanouk, 89, came to the throne in 1941 and led Cambodia to independence from France in 1953.

Despite long periods of exile and his abdication in 2004 due to ill health, the BBC reports he remained an influential figure. He was born in 1922 and educated at French schools in Saigon and in Paris.

Sihanouk tried - but failed - to keep Cambodia out of the Cold War conflict in south-east Asia in the 1970s, and struck an ill-fated deal with the Khmer Rouge.

The regime - which ruled the country in 1975-79 - was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century.

It claimed the lives of more than 1 million people.

Sihanouk later condemned the Khmer Rouge for the deaths.