( dpa ) - Retired former Cambodian king Norodom Sihanouk flew into this northern tourist province Sunday from months in China looking sprightly and attributing his health to prayers and Chinese doctors.
Now aged 85, Sihanouk waved reporters past his notoriously protective North Korean bodyguards and chatted at length about the importance of free speech, the media, his health and future plans.
He was greeted by all of the nation's leaders, including Prime Minister Hun Sen and Sihanouk's son, King Norodom Sihamoni, before driving past thousands of his subjects who lined the route to his royal residence to cheer his return.
"I am retired, so there is no need for me to intefere in this country's politics," the famously political octogenarian told reporters, repeating an earlier pledge. "However I am happy to stay here though and help all of you and I welcome direct opinions (to me) on this country.
"I am still alive, strong and younger than my years thanks to the prayers and wishes of my people and the skill of my Chinese doctors."
The former monarch, who has been in Beijing undergoing routine medical checkups with his wife, Norodom Monineath, since November also praised journalists, saying they were "working hard for the country."
Sihanouk spends increasing periods of time in Beijing, where a team of Chinese doctors are treating him for a range of ailments including diabetes, high blood pressure and colon cancer, although he previously announced that his cancer was in remission.
A palace official said this week that he was planning a gala to celebrate the nation's most important holiday, Khmer New Year, at his residence in the capital less than 10 days after his return.
The former king, who abdicated in 2004, had not set a date for his return to China, but Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Saturday that Sihanouk had been invited to, and was expected to attend, the opening of the Beijing Olympics in July.