King Sihamoni of Cambodia receives warm welcome in Prague

Norodom Sihamoni, photo: CTK

When the King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni arrived in Prague this week the media was out in force for the event. And unlike with other royal visitors they were allowed close up - jostling to put questions to him in the Czech language. The King of Cambodia answered them in fluent Czech saying he was delighted to be back in what he considered to be his "second homeland".

The King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni,  photo: CTK
"My trip to the Czech Republic is more than an official visit. I am overjoyed to be back in a country which was and always will be my second homeland," King Sihamoni told newsmen on arrival.

The King of Cambodia arrived in the former Czechoslovakia in 1962, as a nine-year-old boy whose dream was to become a ballet dancer. He spent 13 years here, studying ballet with Czech masters at the National Theatre but also going to a regular Czech primary school. In consequence he is well versed in Czech literature and culture -and is extremely well informed about events in the Czech Republic. The King's formal programme in the Czech Republic was thus enlivened by many cultural events he wanted to attend and emotional meetings with former friends, teachers and schoolmates. President Vaclav Klaus who received the Cambodian King at Prague Castle noted that it was a very special occasion:

Norodom Sihamoni and Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK

"A foreign monarch who speaks fluent Czech ...that is exceptional, absolutely exceptional."

Although the Cambodian king's ties with the Czech Republic are very strong, relations between the two countries leave a lot to be desired. King Sihamoni said he hoped that his official visit to Prague would help to change this. Miroslav Nozina from the Institute of International Relations in Prague says cooperation with Cambodia is almost non-existent.

"Actually at the moment it is simply an exchange of some goods. And it's very low, really very low. We are exporting some glass, some industrial goods and we import clothes. It's a basic exchange of goods - I would call it Asian trade."

The King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni,  photo: CTK

Miroslav Nozina says that Cambodia has changed over the past decade, opened up to the world, and would welcome foreign investments. However in order to get there before others do Czech firms will have to face up to the challenge of working in more difficult conditions than they are used to:

"Cambodia does not have a very developed infrastructure and if you want to build a factory or set up a company there it is extremely difficult. Our businesspeople are generally not prepared to go to some developing country and start a business there. That's our problem - we do not have too much experience with that kind of thing."