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Key Cam­bo­di­ans who have shaped their na­tion

FROM HEADS OF STATE TO REVERED ARTISTS, GET AC­QUAINTED WITH THIS GROUP OF HEAVY­WEIGHTS WHO HAVE HELPED SHAPE THEIR NA­TION

KING NORODOM SI­HANOUK

Norodom Si­hanouk is per­haps the most revered fig­ure in con­tem­po­rary Cam­bo­dia, hav­ing led the coun­try on and off, in var­i­ous po­si­tions, from 1941 to 2004. Fol­low­ing World War II, Si­hanouk cham­pi­oned in­de­pen­dence from French coloni­sa­tion, which fi­nally came to fruition in 1953.

A lover of the arts, Si­hanouk was monarch dur­ing the coun­try's so-called Golden Age of the 1960s, when Cam­bo­dia was re­garded by many as the most mod­ern and cul­tured na­tion in the re­gion. The fol­low­ing decades saw Si­hanouk im­pris­oned by the Kh­mer Rouge, then liv­ing in ex­ile fol­low­ing the 1979 Viet­namese in­va­sion that ended the Kh­mer Rouge's mur­der­ous reign. The King Fa­ther, as he came to be known, passed away in Oc­to­ber 2012. A few months later, Ph­nom Penh vir­tu­ally shut down as hun­dreds of thou­sands of mourn­ers came to pay their re­spects at his fu­neral.

PRIME MIN­IS­TER HUN SEN

As leader of Cam­bo­dia for more than 30 years, Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen is one of the world's long­est-serv­ing heads of state. The for­mer Kh­mer Rouge soldier and pres­i­dent of the ruling Cam­bo­dian Peo­ple's Party is both cursed and re­spected for his abil­ity to re­tain power through canny party pol­i­tics. His pre­mier­ship has been rife with con­tra­dic­tions: he is the man who brought peace and sta­bil­ity to the na­tion, but he reg­u­larly earns the ire of hu­man rights groups and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Whether by fair means or foul, it seems likely that Cam­bo­dia's golf-lov­ing strong­man will be around for a while yet.

VANN MOLYVANN

Eas­ily the most ex­alted fig­ure in Cam­bo­dian ar­chi­tec­ture, Vann Molyvann de­signed some of Cam­bo­dia's most iconic land­marks, from Ph­nom Penh's crum­bling White Build­ing and vast Olympic Sta­dium to the cap­i­tal's soar­ing In­de­pen­dence Mon­u­ment. He is the de facto leader of the New Kh­mer Ar­chi­tec­ture move­ment, which melded Cam­bo­dian con­struc­tion forms with nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional mod­ernisms and had its hey­day in the 1950s and 1960s. In ad­di­tion to be­ing a sem­i­nal ar­chi­tect, Molyvann was also an ur­ban planner, help­ing ex­pand Ph­nom Penh and es­tab­lish the sea­port of Si­hanoukville. As the cap­i­tal in­dus­tri­alises, many of his build­ings have been re­mod­elled or de­mol­ished to make way for tow­er­ing sky­scrapers.

SVAY SARETH

Born in 1972 in Bat­tam­bang, con­tem­po­rary artist Svay Sareth's for­ma­tive years were spent watch­ing his coun­try suf­fer. As a teenager liv­ing in a refugee camp near the Thai bor­der, Sareth took refuge in art, and his sub­se­quent in­stal­la­tion and per­for­mance works have of­ten fea­tured ma­te­ri­als and themes drawn from his time spent close to war. Last year, the artist filmed him­self eat­ing rub­ber san­dals, which were of­ten worn by Kh­mer Rouge sol­diers and other rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies in the re­gion. Per­haps his most jar­ring and famed per­for­mance, 2011's “Mon Boulet” (“My Bur­den”) saw Sareth pull an 80kg metal globe 250km from Siem Reap to Ph­nom Penh.

PUNG CHHIV KEK

Pung Chhiv Kek is the highly re­spected founder and pres­i­dent of non-profit hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tion Li­cadho. Kek re­ceived her med­i­cal de­gree in France in 1968 and spent sub­se­quent years con­duct­ing re­search in Cam­bo­dia, Brazil, Canada and An­gola. In the late 1980s, she played a key role in end­ing Cam­bo­dia's civil war, fa­cil­i­tat­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen and the then­de­posed King Norodom Si­hanouk. She founded Li­cadho in 1992, one of the first hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions es­tab­lished in Cam­bo­dia's new civil so­ci­ety. Among its many func­tions, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has con­ducted election mon­i­tor­ing, ed­u­cated vot­ers and pro­vided med­i­cal care to pris­on­ers and vic­tims of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

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