Cambodia’s Hun Sen rejects criticism over Myanmar trip

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday affirmed his intention to visit Myanmar in January, rejecting widespread criticism that his trip will strengthen the military junta now ruling the country and confer legitimacy on leader Min Aung Hlaing.

Hun Sen will make his Jan. 7 to 8 visit as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the 10-nation regional bloc. Myanmar has been excluded from ASEAN top-level meetings over the junta’s refusal to allow bloc representatives to meet with jailed opposition leaders.

Addressing foreign critics, Hun Sen noted that other countries have not yet broken diplomatic relations with Myanmar.

“So why can’t I go there myself?” he said. “I have an ambassador there, and Myanmar has an embassy of its own in Phnom Penh. There is nothing wrong with my trip to Myanmar.”

Myanmar is still a member of ASEAN and should not be cut off from the rest of the bloc, he said.

“ASEAN will not function if it has only nine members,” he said.

Speaking to RFA, Bo Hla Tint — ambassador to ASEAN from the foreign ministry of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government — expressed concern over Hun Sen’s coming visit, saying the Cambodian prime minister may be confusing his role as leader of his own country with his role as ASEAN chairman.

“So if he goes as the new chairman of ASEAN, as he said he will, he can’t invite Min Aung Hlaing to any leadership summit or to any other events involving senior leaders. This is the current stand of ASEAN, as everyone knows,” he said.

“[Hun Sen] has to listen to the voice of the people of Myanmar and to the voice of the legitimate representatives of the people of Myanmar” if he wants to end the violence and restore democracy there, Bo Hla Tint said.

Former Cambodian lawmaker Um San An, a member of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, said that a visit to Myanmar by Hun Sen — who has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years — will only strengthen that country’s military rulers.

And though foreign countries have not closed their embassies in Myanmar, many have suspended diplomatic relations.

“They have also cut off aid, frozen the assets of Myanmar’s military officials, and imposed sanctions on the military regime,” Um San An said.

U.S. and European Union officials will also attend ASEAN meetings only if Myanmar representatives are not present, he said.

Countries keeping embassies in Myanmar may now be watching for a change in the country’s political direction, said professor of political science and commentator Em Sovannara.

“They want to maintain their relationships and wait to see if the regime will change to democracy. Embassies can also help with humanitarian assistance and support for other activities for the people of Myanmar,” he said.

If Hun Sen really wants to help resolve Myanmar’s political crisis, he must insist on meeting with Myanmar’s former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, now jailed for four years by the junta on charges widely seen as politically motivated, Sovannara said.

Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy on Feb. 1, saying voter fraud had led to the party’s landslide victory in the country’s November 2020 election.

The junta has yet to provide evidence for its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide protests calling for a return to civilian rule, killing 1,365 people and arresting 8,200 over the last 10 months, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

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