Cambodian PM: ASEAN Invitation to Junta Chief Hinges on ‘Progress’ in Myanmar

Special to BenarNews
2022.01.25
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Cambodian PM: ASEAN Invitation to Junta Chief Hinges on ‘Progress’ in Myanmar Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) offers a souvenir to Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing during a dinner in Naypyidaw, Jan. 7, 2022.
National Television of Cambodia/AFP

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday that he had invited Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the Myanmar junta chief, to an upcoming summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) provided he implements conditions to end the political crisis in the country.

Hun Sen, who is serving a term as chairman of the 10-member bloc, made the comments during a video call with Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, according to a statement posted on the Cambodian leader’s Facebook page. Min Aung Hlaing must first act on promises he made to end violence in his country at an emergency ASEAN meeting in April 2021 after leading a military coup two months earlier, the statement said.

“Hun Sen said that he had invited His Excellency Min Aung Hlaing to the ASEAN summit if there is progress in implementing the unanimously agreed upon five-point consensus, but if not, [Myanmar will] send non-political representatives to the ASEAN meeting instead,” the statement said.

The prime minister said that ASEAN has “a lot of work to do” and cannot allow itself to “become a slave to Myanmar” by becoming too focused on the latter’s internal politics, the statement said.

Following the meeting, Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Kao Kim Hourn told government mouthpiece Fresh News that Hun Sen would hold a video conference with Min Aung Hlaing on Wednesday to discuss what developments the junta had made on the five-point consensus.

On Tuesday’s call, Ismail Sabri stressed to Hun Sen the need for an urgent de-escalation of violence in Myanmar, inclusive political dialogue, and the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, according to a statement released by Malaysia’s Ministry of Defense. He also called for an ASEAN envoy to be granted full access to all parties concerned as part of a bid to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

But the ministry said that Ismail Sabri had remained firm on Malaysia’s earlier stance to refrain from inviting representatives of the junta to ASEAN meetings until the military regime had lived up to its commitments.

Earlier visit to Myanmar

Earlier this month, Hun Sen met with Min Aung Hlaing in Myanmar to discuss international and regional issues, marking the first visit by a foreign leader to the country since the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup, despite protests over what is seen as his support for the military regime and its repressive policies.

After the meeting, the two sides released a statement that sought to highlight that the inclusion of a special envoy in talks to deescalate “tension” in Myanmar was an important step in meeting ASEAN’s five-point consensus. The junta has failed to implement any of the steps and ASEAN had declined to invite its delegations to several high-profile meetings, including its annual summit.

During his Jan. 7 and 8 visit, Hun Sen also failed to meet with any of Myanmar’s prodemocracy leaders, including jailed National League for Democracy (NLD) chief Aung San Suu Kyi – another condition of the five-points – in a move that observers say shows the prime minister intends to treat the junta with kid gloves as chairman of ASEAN.

Since deposing the democratically elected NLD in February, junta forces have killed nearly 1,500 civilians and arrested more than 8,780 – mostly during nonviolent protests of military rule – and are engaged in multiple offensives against ethnic armed groups and anti-junta militias.

In the weeks since Hun Sen’s visit, Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to four years in detention and the military has deployed air strikes during clashes that have displaced thousands of civilians.

Approach criticized

Hun Sen’s video conference with Ismail Sabri on Tuesday came days after he lashed out at Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah in a phone call with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for being “arrogant” by criticizing Phnom Penh’s strategy to deal with Myanmar. Abdullah had earlier told reporters that Hun Sen should have consulted with other leaders from ASEAN before going to Myanmar to meet with Min Aung Hlaing.

The visit also prompted criticism from the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), which was later rejected by Cambodia’s National Assembly in a statement attacking the group’s chair Charles Santiago.

On Tuesday, the APHR urged Cambodia to “prioritize its efforts on finding the solutions needed to address the tragic crisis engulfing Myanmar,” citing what it said are “more urgent humanitarian and human rights needs” in the country.

“Now what is needed is for the ASEAN chair to work closely with the rest of its members to hold the junta leader accountable towards the Five-Point Consensus that he himself also agreed to,” Santiago said in a statement.

“Amidst all of this, let’s not forget the people of Myanmar, who continue to be subjected to the terror and violence of this junta, and yet bravely continue to voice their rejection of the military.”

Iskandar Zulkarnain in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

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