Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is preparing for a visit to crisis-wracked Myanmar even as his top diplomat warned that the Southeast Asian country has “all the ingredients for civil war”.
Hun Sen, whose country this year holds the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), will visit Myanmar on Friday and Saturday.
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ASEAN has been spearheading diplomatic efforts to tackle the turmoil in Myanmar since the country’s military toppled the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power in a coup last year. But the bloc has failed to make substantial progress for dialogue between the opposing sides even as violence escalates in the country.
At least 1,435 people have been killed in a security force crackdown on anti-coup protests, while fighting has erupted in Myanmar’s border areas between the military and ethnic armed groups and civilian militias opposed to the power grab.
On Monday, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, who has also been appointed ASEAN’s special envoy on Myanmar, described the outlook in the country as dire.
“The political and security crisis in Myanmar is deepening, and has led to (an) economic, health and humanitarian crisis,” he said.
“We feel that all the ingredients for civil war are now on the table.
“There are now two governments, there are several armed forces, people are undergoing what they call the civil disobedience movement and (there is) guerrilla warfare around the country.”
Speaking at a lecture organised by Singapore-based think-tank the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Prak Sokhonn rejected criticism from rights groups that Hun Sen’s visit would legitimise the military’s rule.
He said the kingdom’s “immediate attention is on improving the situation in Myanmar”.
ASEAN peace plan
Efforts would remain focused on a peace roadmap and the “five-point consensus” agreed on by ASEAN leaders last year, he said.
The visit aims “to pave the way for progress” by “creating a conducive environment for inclusive dialogue and political trust among all parties concerned”.
He said Myanmar’s crisis has bad implications for “regional stability … ASEAN’s image, credibility, unity,” and said Cambodia was making efforts to allow Myanmar’s military chief to resume attending the group’s meetings.
Cambodia’s approach to Myanmar, which has been condemned by analysts and civil society, is markedly different to the one ASEAN took last year when, under the chairmanship of Brunei, it took the unprecedented step of barring Myanmar’s coup leader Ming Aung Hlaing from its meetings.
The rare rebuke came after the military refused to allow ASEAN’s special envoy – who was tasked with initiating dialogue between the warring sides in Myanmar – from meeting elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Removed from office and detained by the generals as they seized power, the 76-year-old has since been handed a two-year jail term on charges of inciting dissent and breaking COVID-19 rules in a trial her supporters condemned as politically motivated.
She also faces additional charges, including multiple counts of corruption, violations of a state secrets act and a telecoms law that together carry a maximum sentence of more than 100 years in prison.
A spokesman for Myanmar’s military suggested on Tuesday that Hun Sen will also not be allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit.
“Only those who represent political parties would be able to meet and discuss, but there are limitations for those who are still facing legal charges,” Zaw Min Tun told Radio Free Asia.
He did not respond to the outlet’s questions on whether Hun Sen will be meeting with other members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
Some 200 civil society groups in Myanmar and Cambodia have meanwhile condemned Hun Sen’s visit, issuing a statement on Tuesday urging ASEAN and the United Nations to ensure “Hun Sen does not act alone in 2022 – lending legitimacy to the Myanmar military junta and further emboldening them to cause more harm to the people”.
They added, “This would be an insult to the people of Myanmar and Cambodia and further jeopardizing ASEAN’s already-diminishing credibility during the Cambodia tenure as chair of ASEAN in 2022.”