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PM defends visit to crisis-hit Myanmar

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Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the awards ceremony for Cambodian petanque player Ouk Sreymom, who won a gold medal at the world championship competition in Santa Susana, Spain, in November 2021. SPM

PM defends visit to crisis-hit Myanmar

Prime Minister Hun Sen, acting as chairman of ASEAN, reiterated that the purpose of his visit to Myanmar was to ease the crisis occurring there and urge restraint by all parties in order to end the violence in the country while attempting to achieve the goals of the ASEAN five-point consensus.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issued a press statement on January 5 regarding the premier’s visit on January 7-8, undertaken at the invitation of General Min Aung Hlaing, chairman of the ruling State Administration Council (SAC).

According to the press release, Hun Sen will be accompanied by foreign minister Prak Sokhonn and Minister of Industry, Science, Technology, and Innovation Cham Prasidh, along with other senior government officials.

“During the visit, [Hun Sen] will hold a bilateral meeting with [Min Aung Hlaing] for discussions and exchanges of views on bilateral and multilateral cooperation and recent developments in ASEAN,” said the press statement.

Some rights groups have made statements critical of the visit, saying Hun Sen was risking a rupture among ASEAN member states, some of whom purportedly wish to take a harder line on those holding power in Myanmar as they consider it a “coup-led regime”.

“Hun Sen’s visit to the junta in Myanmar threatens ASEAN’s credibility and its future. Is it time for ASEAN to split?” tweeted the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) on January 5.

However, Hun Sen has made it clear several times that his visit to Myanmar is aimed at ending the ongoing crisis and bringing the predominently Buddhist country back into the ASEAN fold to restore the bloc to its full 10 members following the absence of Myanmar at recent Brunei-led ASEAN meetings.

He reiterated his position on January 5 at the awards ceremony for Cambodian petanque player Ouk Sreymom, who won a gold medal at the world championship competition for the sport in Santa Susana, Spain, in November 2021.

Hun Sen said that while his critics do not have to place too much trust in him as the ASEAN chair, they should not be so quick to judgement and blame him in advance without knowing the outcome of the visit and that they should give him a chance to address the issue first.

“I’m not avoiding the five-point consensus reached in [the Indonesian capital] Jakarta in April 2021, but I won’t set conditions or make demands in advance of my visit. I will go there to have a discussion and one of the topics will be the five-point consensus.

“The purpose of this mission isn’t to benefit me. Cambodia is many times smaller than Myanmar and the Cambodian people have many times less resources than Myanmar, but we want to ease the situation towards an end to the crisis. The first point of the consensus is to urge restraint and stop the violence. That is the goal we want,” he added.

Speaking on his past experiences with negotiations, he said that firstly he had asked the opposing side in any conflict to stop shooting and to avoid deaths and injuries while talks were underway even if the negotiators had not yet reached an agreement.

Hun Sen’s visit to Myanmar has even drawn criticism from the citizenry there who are opposed to the government. Hun Sen posed a rhetorical question to those critics, asking whether they really wanted their country to descend into open civil war.

“If there is peace and a return to the democratic process in Myanmar, then you will benefit from the efforts of ASEAN member states to mediate. But everything that happens will be happening within the jurisdiction of Myanmar, while those of us from the outside can only help mediate,” he said.

Hun Sen further said that humanitarian aid had already arrived in Myanmar but has yet to be delivered to its people. He said that one of his goals while visiting there will be to find a way to make sure that the aid is delivered widely to everyone in need and without discrimination.

Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, told The Post on January 5 that Hun Sen’s mission to Myanmar was out of concern for the crisis there.

Vannak said the prime minister seemed to be acting out of a sense of responsibility to help end the conflict given Cambodia’s role as ASEAN chair this year.

“However, without specific mechanisms and serious commitments from the international community and regional organisations like ASEAN to facilitate the negotiation process and seek a common solution that includes all parties to the conflict, any such efforts will just be planning without actions, or dreams that have yet to come true,” he said.

Three days prior to his departure to Myanmar, Hun Sen spoke with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on the phone to discuss the issue of Myanmar. And just days ago, two bombs were set off near the Cambodian embassy there, but with no reported casualties.

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