Sok An, whose path to becoming one of the most powerful men in Cambodia traced the career of Prime Minister Hun Sen, died on Wednesday evening, according to a government spokesman. He was 66.
As Cambodia’s most senior deputy prime minister and the head of the Council of Ministers, a role specifically created for him, Sok An’s vast control over state bodies large and small was rivalled only by that of his boss for the past four decades, Mr. Hun Sen.
The two began working together shortly after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, when Mr. Hun Sen became foreign minister of the Vietnamese-backed socialist government. Sok An became chief of cabinet at the Foreign Ministry in 1982, three years before Mr. Hun Sen was promoted to prime minister.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that Sok An passed away at 6:32 p.m. on Wednesday.
As one of the prime minister’s top lieutenants over the past three decades, Sok An assumed control of government bodies as diverse as the Apsara Authority, which oversees the Angkor Archaeological Park, the National Petroleum Authority, which awards oil exploration contracts, and the Accreditation Council of Cambodia, which controls the higher education system.
He lost a number of these positions as part of a reshuffle of power following the 2013 national election, in what some speculated was an effort to spread the wealth within the ruling party.
Sok An was also one of the government’s top negotiators, having been among the lead diplomats for the Phnom Penh government in talks with rival factions that led to the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991. He also oversaw the Cambodian side of the Khmer Rouge tribunal after heading protracted talks with the U.N. that eventually led to its creation on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
For months, Sok An had stopped appearing in public, though his cabinet chief and colleagues said little about his health. What appears to have been premature rumors of his death were swirling on social media over the past weekend.
He is survived by his wife and five children, including sons Sok Puthyvuth, who is among the country’s most prominent businessman, Sok Sokhan, who became a CPP lawmaker in 2015, and Sok Sangvar, a senior official at the Apsara Authority.