Hun Sen Urges Myanmar junta chief to honor ASEAN pledge

But an observer says Cambodia’s prime minister is trying to save face after failed visit.
2022.01.26
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Hun Sen Urges Myanmar junta chief to honor ASEAN pledge Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) meets with Myanmar junta chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing (R) during a video conference, Jan. 26, 2022.
Hun Sen's Facebook page

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday urged Myanmar’s Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to uphold an agreement he made with fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members to end the political crisis in his country, but observers say the entreaty had likely fallen on deaf ears.

Hun Sen, who recently assumed the rotating chair of ASEAN, made the request to Min Aung Hlaing during a video conference, a day after he confirmed plans to invite the junta chief to an upcoming summit of the bloc even though he has yet to implement the so-called Five-Point Consensus, a plan he agreed to last April to end violence in Myanmar.

The call was billed as a follow up to Hun Sen’s Jan. 7-8 trip to Myanmar — the first by a foreign leader since the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup — which drew widespread criticism for conferring legitimacy on a regime that has detained nearly 8,800 civilians and killed some 1,500 others, mostly during nonviolent protests of its rule, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

In addition to discussing “how to further advance” implementation of the consensus, the two leaders “shared the view on the need to make more efforts to improve the situation in Myanmar,” according to a statement by Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hun Sen stressed to Min Aung Hlaing that he is “deeply concerned over the persistent violence” in the country.

The statement said that Min Aung Hlaing told Hun Sen that Myanmar “is committed to work with Cambodia as the ASEAN chair,” and that the two sides agreed to continue to hold “candid discussions on matters of mutual interests,” but did not clarify whether he planned to honor his promises to the bloc.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Cambodian political analyst Em Sovannara said he expects there is little chance that Min Aung Hlaing will follow through on his promises to ASEAN, despite the rosy portrayal of Wednesday’s video conference offered by Hun Sen’s foreign ministry.

If the status quo remains in effect, he said, the political crisis in Myanmar will continue and likely result in further bloodshed.

“[The talks took place because] Hun Sen wanted to restore face after he was criticized over his recent trip to Myanmar being a waste of time,” he said.

In the statement, Hun Sen noted that the Five-Point Consensus “represents ASEAN’s shared resolve to bring normalcy” and should therefore “remain a priority.”

As part of that process, he called on Min Aung Hlaing to facilitate a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy of the ASEAN chair as soon as possible. He asked that “all parties … including [the junta] exercise with utmost restraint, cease violence, and endeavor to achieve a ceasefire” to set the stage for dialogue, and requested full cooperation from the military in support of ASEAN relief efforts.

Other statements on Hun Sen’s Facebook page referred to Min Aung Hlaing as the “senior leader” of Myanmar or chairman of the country’s State Administration Council, using the official name of the junta — noticeably different than the more deferential tone that followed the Jan. 7-8 visit in which Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry called him the Myanmar’s “prime minister.”

Myanmar's junta spokesman did not respond to RFA telephone calls for comment, but state media released a brief statement on the conversation.

"At the talks, they frankly discussed the participation of Myanmar in ASEAN, implementation of the five-point ASEAN consensus, needs for cooperation in ASEAN with a constructive attitude, the plan of Myanmar to make the best cooperation with the ASEAN, sending of the special envoy of the ASEAN Chair to Myanmar, efforts to restore internal peace in Myanmar, endeavours being made to eradicate terror acts in the country, humanitarian aid, and the issue of the special envoy of the UN Secretary-General," the statement said. 

Earlier statements prompt concern

As recently as Jan. 20, Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry had issued a press release condemning clashes between the military and anti-junta forces in Myanmar’s Kayah state for “jeopardizing” what it characterized as “progress” made in the aftermath of Hun Sen’s visit.

Such statements, as well as Hun Sen’s failure during his visit to meet with any of Myanmar’s prodemocracy leaders, including jailed National League for Democracy chief Aung San Suu Kyi — another condition of the five-points — had prompted concern from observers, who said they suggest the prime minister intends to treat the junta with kid gloves as chair of ASEAN.

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.

On Tuesday, Hun Sen told Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri bin Yaakob — his counterpart in fellow ASEAN member state Malaysia — that he had invited Min Aung Hlaing to an upcoming ASEAN summit, provided he implements conditions to end the political crisis in his country. If Myanmar fails to do so, he said, the junta will have to send non-political representatives to the meeting.

Hun Sen warned 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, Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry said. 

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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