Myanmar official in Cambodia for talks as global censure grows

Cambodia is the new chair of ASEAN, a regional bloc that is leading diplomatic efforts to resolve Myanmar’s crisis.

Myanmar's military-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin meets Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Decembeer 7, 2021 [Cambodian Government handout via Reuters]

Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister has held talks in Cambodia, the Southeast Asian nation that is the new chair of the regional bloc spearheading diplomatic efforts to resolve Naypyidaw’s political crisis.

Wunna Maung Lwin’s visit to Cambodia on Tuesday comes a day after a court in Myanmar sentenced deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to detention on charges her supporters have called politically motivated.

The sentencing drew global condemnation.

Handout pictures from the Cambodian government showed Wunna Maung Lwin meeting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh with the men tapping elbows in a greeting before talks.

Cambodia is the chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2022, taking over from Brunei.

There are divisions among the bloc’s members over its diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Myanmar, triggered by the generals’ February 1 coup.

The bloc did not invite Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing to its annual summit in October after members failed to reach a consensus and amid concern over Min Aung Hlaing’s failure to implement a peace plan he had agreed with leaders of the bloc earlier in the year.

Hun Sen and Wunna Maung Lwin discussed bilateral relations, ASEAN issues and ways to re-establish good relationships within the grouping, said Eang Sophalleth, an assistant to the prime minister.

The foreign minister also handed Hun Sen an invitation for a visit to Myanmar on January 7-8, which Hun Sen accepted, Eang Sophalleth said. Hun Sen would be the first government leader to visit Myanmar since the coup.

He said on Monday that the military should be invited to ASEAN meetings.

Analysts say Cambodia’s ascent to ASEAN’s chairmanship will mean the bloc’s “already watered-down approach to Myanmar likely will be diluted even further in 2022”.

Joshua Kurlantzick, the senior fellow for Southeast Asia, wrote in the World Politics Review last week that Cambodia already has a reputation within ASEAN for blocking initiatives that many members support, including a joint position on the South China Sea dispute.

“Hun Sen also does not want to facilitate a long-running period of isolation of a Southeast Asian authoritarian leader, at a time when he himself is cracking down harder on Cambodia’s political opposition and civil society than at any time in recent decades,” he said. “And since ASEAN operates by consensus, the Cambodian leader will be able to block any proposed Myanmar policies in 2022.”

Few countries have recognised Myanmar’s military, and the United Nations General Assembly on Monday delayed action on the generals’ request to take Myanmar’s seat at the global body. The credentials committee is unlikely to again consider the rival claims to representation until late next year.

The decision leaves the ambassador from the toppled civilian government, Kyaw Moe Tun, in his job.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which led to widespread protests and raised international concern about the end of tentative political reforms following decades of military rule.

Despite global calls for dialogue and the release of detained civilian leaders, a court in Myanmar found Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of charges of incitement and breaching coronavirus restrictions on Monday after what critics described as a “sham trial”.

Aung San Suu Kyi is set to serve two years in detention at an undisclosed location, a sentence reduced from four years after a partial pardon from Myanmar’s military chief.

The deposed leader’s supporters say the cases against her are baseless and designed to tie her up in legal proceedings while the military consolidates power.

Her conviction had been widely expected in Myanmar.

Demonstrators in the largest city, Yangon, risked arrest to stage a flash protest right after the verdict though there were no immediate reports of fresh demonstrations on Tuesday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies