Chea Song, Cambodia’s Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry since 1998 and a long-serving government official, died Saturday afternoon after a long bout with liver disease. He was 60.
Chea Song had served in the ministry since 1979, when Vietnamese troops ousted the Khmer Rouge from power, and had been minister since 1998. His illness had prevented him from carrying out ministerial duties since December.
“He was a very good man and accomplished a lot for the ministry,” said Chan Tong Yves, a former Ministry of Agriculture secretary of state who has been acting minister during the last stages of Chea Song’s illness.
Chan Tong Yves added that “the CPP has also suffered the loss of a good person.” Chea Song was a member of the ruling CPP’s Central Committee.
Former minister of agriculture and current Vice President of the Council of Minister’s Agriculture and Rural Development Commission Tao Seng Hour said Chea Song had sought treatment in Vietnam and France during the last few months. He died at Calmette Hospital two days after returning to Cambodia.
At his home near the Laos Embassy on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard Sunday, hundreds of well-wishers visited to pay their respects. Officials met nearby at the Ministry of Agriculture to plan the funeral, which they said will take place at Wat Botum, possibly on Thursday.
Chea Song attended Chamkar Doung Agronomy Faculty in Phnom Penh in the late 1960s along with Chan Tong Yves. During the Khmer Rouge regime, he was sent to Battambang province, according to Chan Tong Yves.
After the Pol Pot regime was toppled, Chea Song was named director of the agronomy department. He was secretary of state from 1985 until the early 1990s and again served as secretary of state from 1993 to 1998.
A statement from the CPP’s Central Committee called Chea Song “one of the active, great members of the party. He sacrificed many things in serving the interests of the nation and the people.”
Tao Seng Hour, a member of Funcinpec, said he worked well with Chea Song during the five years Tao Seng Hour was minister, despite the fact they were from different parties.
“We never had any bickering or disagreements,” he said. “I am terribly sorry for the loss of a good friend.”
Sun Hean, deputy director of the Wildlife Protection Office at the Agriculture Ministry’s Forestry Department, said Chea Song was a strong decision maker. He worked to reorganize the ministry’s administration, according to Christian Cheron, who served as a consultant to the Minister of Agriculture as part of a cooperation program sponsored by France.
During his three-year service as minister, the ministry began reforming the way the government deals with the fishing and forestry sectors.
In 1999, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered government officials to crackdown on illegal logging. The creation of a forest crime monitoring unit, which includes officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, in October 1999 helped persuade the International Monetary Fund to resume loans to Cambodia.
One foreign NGO worker said Chea Song’s passing is not expected to harm ongoing efforts to reform the forestry sector.
Department of Fisheries director Nao Thuok said Chea Song has worked to reform the fishing industry.
In the past few years, several disputes have erupted over ownership of fishing lots on the Tonle Sap. In August, Hun Sen ordered the ministry to put all fishing lots, including those for development research, out for competitive bidding to avoid irregularities.
Chea Song is survived by his wife and five children.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)