Cambodian Prime Minister Is First Foreign Leader to Visit Myanmar After Coup
(Bloomberg) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived in Myanmar on Friday, becoming the first foreign leader to visit the country since the junta seized power in a coup nearly a year ago.
Security was tightened in major cities like Yangon as well as the capital Naypyidaw in anticipation of protests over Hun Sen’s visit. Several protesters took to Facebook to criticize Hun Sen for helping to legitimize the junta’s rule.
Hun Sen will meet with Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing to “discuss and exchange views on bilateral and multilateral cooperation” as well as recent developments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, according to a statement from the Cambodian Foreign Ministry.
Myanmar’s junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun confirmed the two leaders would meet later on Friday to boost ties.
The Cambodian leader’s two-day visit highlights his increased engagement with the junta after assuming the rotating chair of Asean. Critics have said the visit could legitimize the junta’s rule although Hun Sen said the purpose was to “ease the crisis occurring there and urge restraint by all parties in order to end the violence in the country,” the Phnom Penh Post reported.
Myanmar is going through worsening civil strife due to clashes between the junta and protesters as well as armed ethnic groups since the civilian-led administration was deposed in February last year. Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn said in a lecture earlier this week that the political and security problems have led to an economic, health and humanitarian crisis, the Straits Times reported.
“We feel that all the ingredients for civil war are now on the table,” Prak Sokhonn was cited as saying at a virtual lecture organized by a Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
The junta’s campaign to crush dissent has intensified with soldiers committing at least 56 arson attacks last month, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. At least 18 people were arrested and burnt to death in Sagaing region alone, the association said.
More than 1,440 civilians have been killed and over 11,300 people have been arrested since the coup in February last year, the association reported.
Hun Sen said the Myanmar regime has the right to attend Asean meetings, a reversal in stance from the previous chair Brunei who led efforts within the 10-nation bloc to deny Min Aung Hlaing from participating in a virtual big ticket summit last year that the U.S. and China attended.
Hun Sen last month named Prak Sokhonn as the Asean chair’s new special envoy to Myanmar, brushing aside an earlier suggestion from Malaysia to keep the former representative from Brunei. These moves could threaten to split the bloc which focuses on decision making by consensus.
Asean, however, has struggled to get concessions from the military under a five-point agreement with Myanmar that includes the cessation of violence. The U.S., meanwhile, led international efforts to sanction the country’s military, and seek cooperation with Asean in pressing the junta to release political prisoners who are being “unjustly detained.”
This would include Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi who was found guilty last month of inciting dissent against the military and flouting Covid rules, in the first of many cases brought against her. The regime later reduced her four-year jail sentence to two and she is set to face another round of court verdicts next week.
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