2004.11.03 Cambodia's New King Makes Maiden Countryside Tour

November 3, 2004

KOMPONG SPEU, Cambodia (Reuters) - Cambodia's new King Norodom Sihamoni made his first royal trip into the countryside on Wednesday following last week's coronation which marked the dawn of a new era for the war-scarred southeast Asian nation.

``I will be always with you,'' the new monarch, a former ballet dancer who has spent much of his adult life overseas, promised 3,000 farmers and students in the town of Kompong Speu, 40 miles west of the capital, Phnom Penh.

King Sihamoni, 51, faces an uphill struggle to escape the shadow of his octogenarian father, Norodom Sihanouk, one of Asia's most enduring Cold War leaders who was Cambodia's royal keystone for more than 60 years before his shock abdication last month.

``King Sihanouk is too old. He cannot come to see you all here, but he is always concerned about all his children,'' Sihamoni said to huge cheers from the flag-waving crowd packed into a high school.

With his reign less than a week old, the new king has embarked on a series of trips around the country, which still bears the scars of the brutal 1970s Khmer Rouge regime, to introduce himself to his new subjects, most of whom have no idea what he looks like.

Even though the king has no official power, many ordinary Cambodians see the monarchy as a force for good against domination by politicians frequently branded as incompetent, uncaring and corrupt.

``We have so much hope that the new king will help eliminate corruption and the bad deeds of people in society so we can live in a better environment,'' said Ut On, a toothless 83-year-old man.

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