Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who has been out of the country for several weeks receiving medical treatment, is set to meet a Thai delegation in Phnom Penh today to discuss contested maritime space in the Gulf of Thailand, an official said.
An aircraft thought to be carrying Mr. An touched down at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday evening, according to a bodyguard at the scene, though reporters were prevented from approaching the landing strip to verify the information. Contacted yesterday about Mr. An’s return to Cambodia from Singapore, Ek Tha, a spokesman at the Press and Quick Reaction Unit inside the Council of Ministers, said he “can neither confirm or deny” that Mr. An was back.
“All I can say is that, according to the schedule, he’s with a Thai delegation at 4 p.m. [today],” he said. “It’s about oil and gas offshore between Cambodia and Thailand.”
Thailand and Cambodia are locked in a long-standing territorial dispute over 27,000 square-km of sea believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves known as the overlapping claims area. In July 2009, the government said that it had awarded an exploration license for 2,430 square-km of the sea to French petrochemical giant Total.
Mr. An has been absent from public life for about two months and, until this week, the government had declined to give details of his condition. A statement released Tuesday confirmed that Mr. An had received treatment for kidney stones in Singapore. Although his apparent return was shrouded in secrecy, a bodyguard to Mr. An, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed that the deputy prime minister had arrived in Cambodia yesterday evening.
As a flight from Singapore arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday evening, a motorcade of cars with tinted windows picked up people from the plane on the tarmac.
Bodyguards told reporters that they were not allowed to stand at the airport gate or take photographs. Svay Sitha, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, then appeared at the airport gate. Asked about Mr. An, Mr. Sitha replied, “I don’t know who Sok An is.”