CAN IT BE TRUE? THERE'S A LITTLE RUMOR GOING AROUND SAYING SO AND SO IS THE PRINCE?IF YOU'RE INTERESTED, KEEP READING, IF NOT,JUST GO BACK TO YOUR DAILY ACTIVITIES.
By Paul Brinkley-Rogers
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
A Cambodian prince who has done intelligence work for that country's king said yesterday that the abbot of a Buddhist temple in central Ohio is the long-missing Prince Norodom Naradipo, potential heir to the throne.
"Do I believe that Prince Naradipo is alive?'' asked Prince Sisowath Suriyavong, after he flew into Columbus from Paris and spent two days with the Rev. Lim Buntheoun. "The answer is yes.''
Sisowath is the half brother of Prince Sisowath Sirikmatak, a key leader of Cambodia's pro-American government who was killed by the communist Khmer Rouge when it took over that country in 1975.
"Where is he (Naradipo)?'' Prince Sisowath asked. "He is at Watt Khmer Puthipreak,'' the Plain City temple led by Lim.
The declaration by Sisowath, 65, appeared to put him at odds with King Sihanouk, who is being treated in Beijing for prostate cancer and diabetes.
In a statement faxed to news organizations on Sept. 11, 79-year-old King Sihanouk said: "My son N. Naradipo was savagely killed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.''
The king was reacting to a story in The Dispatch faxed to him by his eldest son, Prince Norodom Yuvaneath, who lives in Connecticut and who met Lim in February.
Speculation about Lim's real identity coincides with debate in Cambodian government circles over who should succeed the king when he dies.
Lim is kicking off a national fund-raising campaign for a massive temple that would cost more than $9 million.
Prince Sisowath, who was deputy commander of Cambodia's 7th Airborne Brigade in that country's battle against the Khmer Rouge, said Naradipo was not executed by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 or 1976, as most Western scholars believe.
Naradipo was named crown prince and was selected from among several sons by Sihanouk to lead his political movement if he died. The prince said Naradipo remained alive by keeping his identity secret, hiding with villagers and eventually escaping to Thailand.
Lim Buntheoun, who is 46 according to his Ohio driver's license, assumed that name, was held at a refugee camp in Thailand and was granted a visa to enter the United States in 1986 using the Lim name, his Columbus followers say. The monk's secretary says Lim picked a fictitious birthdate for security reasons.
Sisowath said he has occasionally heard from Naradipo, his cousin, and that it came as no surprise when the monk sent him an airline ticket, inviting him to visit the Ohio temple.
He said he last saw Naradipo on April 19, 1975 -- two days after the Khmer Rouge defeated the U.S.-backed Republican government and imposed a three-year reign of terror that resulted in the deaths of 1 million Cambodians, including several of Sihanouk's children. Naradipo, born in 1946, would have been 29 at the time and would be 56 in October.
Sisowath, who said he escaped from Cambodia to Thailand later that month, has since lived in France along with 40,000 other Cambodian exiles. He spoke in French and Cambodian during the interview.
The prince will be leaving later in the week to visit the 17,000-strong Cambodian community in Long Beach, Calif.
He was escorted by two former Cambodian military men from Long Beach who are acting as bodyguards.
He said the U.S. government could learn more about the identity of the Rev. Lim from the Chinese government. During the years of Khmer Rouge rule, the Chinese made efforts to protect their old ally, Sihanouk, when the Communists kept Sihanouk under house arrest at the royal palace in Phnom Penh and toyed with killing him.
The prince said that he does not support the idea -- floated by some of Lim's supporters -- that the monk should attempt to succeed Sihanouk, who has been ailing for several years.
Cambodian kings should rule like monarchs, he said. The present Cambodian constitution gives power to elected officials and makes the king only a figurehead.
The prince has been addressing Lim as "Your Royal Highness'' in mail sent from Paris since the monk's followers in Columbus visited him last year.
About 1,500 Cambodians live in Columbus.
Caption: Some Cambodians think the Rev. Lim Buntheoun of Plain City is really Prince Norodom Naradipo, missing heir.