Slipping into Cambodia with little fanfare, North Korea’s vice minister of foreign affairs met with Senate President Chea Sim late last week, according to North Korea’s state-run news agency.
During their meeting Friday, Chea Sim told Vice Minister Kim Yong Il that Cambodia supported his country and “expressed belief that the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula would be solved peacefully and fairly,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.
The vice minister’s visit was kept under wraps as government officials in Phnom Penh said last week they had no knowledge of the trip.
Reached by telephone on Thursday, Khieu Thavika, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other officials from the ministry’s press office and the Interior Ministry said they were unaware of Kim’s presence here.
And while residents at the North Korean Embassy confirmed the vice minister was in town, they told a reporter who went to the embassy Thursday and Friday that embassy officials were not available for comment.
This week, Kim appeared to have slipped out of the country as quietly as he entered. Kim left Phnom Penh on Monday, after spending five days in Cambodia, Hem Heng of the Foreign Ministry’s press office said Tuesday.
In addition to meeting Chea Sim, Kim also met with Long Visalo, the secretary of state for the Foreign Ministry “to promote bilateral cooperation,” Hem Heng said, who added that although it was an “ordinary” visit, “personally, I have never seen a delegation [from North Korea] at that level.”
According to reports, some 460 North Korean defectors arrived in South Korea last week from an unidentified Southeast Asian country, which some news agencies have reported is Vietnam.
Asked whether Kim discussed the defections with Cambodian leaders, Hem Heng said he did not know. But, he added: “They should not talk about the defector issues because Cambodia is not involved with that.”
Also on Tuesday, an official from the Cabinet of the Royal Palace said King Norodom Sihanouk had bestowed two awards upon North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
The King issued a royal decree on May 14, granting Kim Jong Il “La Grand Collier de l’independence nationale Royaume du Cambodge”(The Grand Necklace of the National Independence of the Kingdom of Cambodia), and “La Grande Croix de l’ordre du Cambodge” (The Grand Cross of the Order of Cambodia), the official said. The official said he did not know why the awards were granted.
(Additional reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly)