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Lon Nol, Ex-Cambodia President, Eulogized at Service

November 24, 1985|MARK I. PINSKY | Times Staff Writer

Former Cambodian President Lon Nol--the general who overthrew the neutralist regime of Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970, only to be forced from power by the Khmer Rouge in 1975--was buried in Brea on Saturday, surrounded by family, friends and colleagues of his short-lived regime.

Lon, 72, died last Sunday of heart failure in a Fullerton hospital, near the home he had lived in since 1981.

Chhang Song, former minister of information in Lon's Khmer Republic and the president's longtime aide, eulogized the general as "a Founding Father of our Khmer Republic," which he called a "brave experiment."

'Faithful to Responsibilities'

Chhang told an estimated 500 people at the funeral that the former president "was always faithful to his responsibilities and one who never shirked his duty. A giant has indeed passed from our midst."

Standing at the foot of Lon's open casket throughout the one-hour Buddhist service was a man wearing the white uniform of a lieutenant colonel in the Cambodian navy and holding the Khmer Republican flag, which has in one quadrant a representation of the ancient ruins at Angkor Wat.

At the head of the coffin was a small statue of the Buddha, into which lighted incense sticks were placed. An offering of fresh fruit was set at the base of the podium from which Chhang spoke.

The crowd overflowed the funeral home, spilling into the parking lot, where chairs had been set up. Recorded music, ranging from the Khmer Republic's martial national anthem to delicate flute compositions, wafted outdoors, mingling with the smell of incense.

In the front row of the small chapel sat six former Cambodian generals who came from around the country to serve as pallbearers. On the other side aisle, seven Buddhist priests in saffron robes waited for the eulogy to be completed, after which they approached the coffin and led the group in chanting. Seated farther back were seven elderly white-robed nuns and monks with shaved heads.

Lon's role as a staunch U. S. ally was noted several times during the service.

Chhang read the text of a telegram from Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead that described Lon as "a tireless defender of the Cambodian nation and of her people. Americans will long remember our efforts together in that noble cause and the friendship between our two peoples."

Anti-Communist Career

In his eulogy, delivered in Cambodian and English, Chhang recounted Lon's strongly anti-Communist government and military career. Beginning in 1944, Lon was selected for youth military training by the Vichy French government that then ruled Cambodia as part of the colony of Indochina.

During the early 1950s, Chhang said, before independence from France, "when the (Vietnamese) Vietminh attempted to organize local Communist forces in Cambodia to wrestle control of the country from the Cambodians, Lon Nol led the first military battles against the insurrection."

After independence, he transformed the Cambodians who had served in the colonial forces by "molding the remnants of the French Riflemen into the real National Armed Forces," Chhang said.

In 1970, after serving as prime minister to Sihanouk, Lon "shouldered the burdens of government," Chhang said. The prince was ousted, he said, "over the issue of Viet Cong sanctuaries in Cambodia and the use of the Cambodian territory by these foreign forces against the Americans in South Vietnam."

The former information minister also referred to charges made in several books and one feature film, "The Killing Fields," that Lon's coup and his subsequent cooperation with U. S. military forces--such as allowing them to expand B-52 bombing raids against the Viet Cong sanctuaries inside Cambodia--destroyed the fabric of Cambodian society and paved the way for the victory of the Communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

After four years of brutal Khmer Rouge rule, in which millions of people--including Lon Nol's brother, Gen. Lon Non--were executed or starved to death, the Khmer Rouge were dislodged from power by a Vietnamese invasion.

Today, three groups on the Thai-Cambodian border, including the Khmer Rouge and several others led by former Lon Nol supporters and members of his government, are waging guerrilla war against the Vietnamese-installed regime in Phnom Penh. According to Um Sin, former Cambodian ambassador to the United States, representatives of the most pro-Western guerrilla group, led by former Prime Minister Son Sann, frequently consulted Lon in Fullerton and yesterday paid their respects to his family.

"As the present Cambodian situation is bogged down in a stalemate," Chhang said, "it is rather too easy--and even tempting--to sit back and criticize the Khmer Republican regime."

Unfortunately, he said, Lon's Khmer Republic was overwhelmed by "the Vietnam War next door and the internal growth of Khmer Rouge communism. . . . In another age and clime, the Republic might have survived and flourished."

Lon is survived by his wife, Sovanna, a brother, five sons, four daughters and six grandchildren.

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