In a rare public admonishing, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that Cabinet Minister Sok An has taken too long to establish a new national airline and may be relieved of the responsibility if he can’t deliver soon.
The government has been seeking to establish a new national carrier since the demise of Royal Air Cambodge in October 2001. Hun Sen said that five years of negotiations had so far failed to get results.
“The rights of Sok An will end soon,” Hun Sen said at the opening of a two-day investor conference in the capital.
“I have said this many times. I have told Sok An recently as well. If he cannot negotiate, then turn the rights of negotiation over to me,” he said.
Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Hun Sen was simply rousing Sok An to act more quickly on the national carrier.
“Samdech was just ringing an alarm to alert authorities to be quicker in establishing this,” he said Thursday. “But the stance of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who is a conservative person, is that he does not want the state to lose profits. So it could take a bit more time for studying and seeking partners,” he added.
A person answering Sok An’s telephone said the minister was unavailable.
In his remarks Wednesday, Hun Sen said two foreign firms, which he did not name, were currently in talks to operate a joint-venture national carrier in which Cambodia would retain a 30 percent stake. The state would not be liable for operating losses and would be able to name a chairman while the private entity could appoint a CEO, he said.
Hun Sen also announced that the runway at Sihanoukville’s Kang Keng airport was to be extended in order to accommodate Boeing 737 aircraft.
Khek Norinda, spokesman for Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports, which manages Cambodia’s two international airports and Kang Keng, said Thursday a national carrier would raise the country’s profile.
“The national airline would give to our country even more visibility,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Cambodia would definitely be identified as a primary destination and not only an extension of other tourist spots in the region.”
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)
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