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Kingdom rejects meddling in Ukraine ‘proxy war’: PM

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Ukrainian refugees queue to file for residency permits at the Foreign Police Headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic on Wednesday. The number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine has surged to nearly 836,000, UN figures showed on Wednesday, as fighting intensified on day seven of Russia’s military offensive. AFP

Kingdom rejects meddling in Ukraine ‘proxy war’: PM

Cambodia rejects the use or threats of force and does not side with any of the parties in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared.

The premier stated that support for any party in what he believed had evolved into a proxy battle between the former USSR and US-led NATO countries would violate the Kingdom’s own policy of non-alignment with military blocs.

Speaking at a ceremonial inauguration of a stretch of National Road 3 linking Phnom Penh to Kampot province on March 2, Hun Sen lamented the fact that the Russian-Ukraine war had gone beyond the borders of the two countries, as he stressed his intention for Cambodia to refrain from officially expressing support for either party for this reason.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has effectively become the “Russia-Europe war”, Hun Sen observed, as he said many countries in Europe have “sent their people to help fight in Ukraine”, along with military aid.

“We don’t support [the idea of third party countries] providing assistance to any side. This is why it is hard for us to show our position and views. If the issue was just between Russia and Ukraine, it would be easy for us to [express] our views.

“But now, it has become an ‘internationalised’ or ‘Europeanised’ war in Ukraine, through the country opening its borders and allowing foreign citizens to bear arms on its behalf, and welcoming foreign countries’ provision of weapons and fighter jets,” he said.

“Our position from the start to the end is that we don’t support the use of force or threats against another party. This is our official position that I had [articulated] at the UN, and at the Non-Aligned Movement,” he added, referring to the forum of developing countries that are not formally aligned with any bloc.

Hun Sen said military assistance for Ukraine will not cause the war to subside, but will only increase both parties’ motivation to continue bloodshed. He urged all sides to continue negotiations as he reiterated his belief that war cannot be ended by another war.

“We are against the use of force and threats. This is our position. We urge negotiation for a solution. I hope that both sides of the conflict understand Cambodia’s position,” Hun Sen said, adding that Cambodia should not be forced to side with any party.

Since Russia launched its military offensive in Ukraine a week ago, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has estimated that around 660,000 refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries. Some of them had even crossed the border into Russia in hopes of seeking refuge, the agency said.

Hun Sen said he had also discussed the issue at a bilateral meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on February 24, during which the latter said Malaysia would be maintaining a position of neutrality.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the National Road 3 inauguration ceremony on Wednesday. SPM

Hun Sen stressed that his view represented that of the Kingdom and that despite Cambodia’s current chairmanship of ASEAN, it was not reflective of the bloc’s position.

He added that Cambodia had held the ASEAN chairmanship at a challenging time as “issues have been piling up,” listing them as, among others, efforts to push forward the Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea; the Myanmar issue, and now the Russia-Ukraine war.

Despite abstaining from siding with either country, Hun Sen offered his view that Russia will not win the war because, he said, “foreigners will not win over the local people”.

He offered his assessment of the military situation, ostensibly drawing from his time as a military general. He speculated that the 64km convoy entering the capital Kyiv could be “attacked and broken into separate parts”, and suggested that Russian troops may divide themselves into smaller groups to avoid an “all-out” battle.

“So the war will be prolonged if Russia decides to station their troops in Ukraine. It will lead to an ambush which will cause each side to have constant bloodshed,” he warned.

Without naming Donetsk and Luhansk – the regions at the heart of Russia’s justification for its military offensive – Hun Sen said Cambodia was not promoting “separation or secession” akin to that which has been seen in “Kosovo, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Taiwan”.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, observed that the position articulated by Hun Sen was in line with the country’s foreign policy of neutrality and non-alignment, as enshrined in Article 53 of the Constitution.

Since the war has gone beyond the two countries to become a proxy conflict between Russia and the US-led NATO, Phea said, the Kingdom would be violating its policy of non-alignment if it favours any side in the war.

“If we show support to [any] side, we’d be pouring petrol on the fire. Cambodia is a small country which used to be invaded by neighbouring countries. But we have never been in a position to invade others, so Cambodia will not accept an invasion [of any nation] by a powerful [aggressor].

“The decision not to condemn or side with any [party] is coming from a position of not wanting to see conflict. We don’t want to see war or invasion by a big country of a smaller one,” he said.

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