Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Cambodia donates to Myanmar’s military junta to contain the COVID-19 pandemic

A man walks in font of the Myanmar Embassy in Phnom Penh, August 17, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
A man walks in font of the Myanmar Embassy in Phnom Penh, August 17, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

The Cambodian government said it will donate $200,000 along with medical equipment to Myanmar’s military junta to aid efforts to contain the pandemic.

In a letter addressed to Myanmar’s military coup leader, Min Aung Hlaing, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday that “in the spirit of friendship and solidarity between our two countries,” Cambodia will donate $200,000 to Myanmar in addition to the country’s pledge of $100,000 for ASEAN humanitarian assistance to Myanmar through the AHA Center.

“I have observed your country’s effort to fight against the outbreak of COVID-19 by taking strong measures to contain the pandemic from the beginning,” he wrote. “I am firmly convinced that with our joined effort, we will overcome this global pandemic in one piece.”

In the letter, Hun Sen said Cambodia will also donate 3 million face masks, 500,000 rapid test kits and other equipment to Myanmar. He said Cambodia Health Minister Mam Bun Heng will lead a delegation to deliver the materials to Myanmar soon.

Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected civilian government in a February 1 coup, arresting the top leaders and violently suppressing public dissent. Even as COVID surges in a horrific third wave, the junta has continued to arrest doctors and medical volunteers and patrol hospitals, and been accused of hoarding oxygen and medical supplies — stymying efforts to contain the virus.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights, which has been working with other civil society organizations in the region to monitor the situation in Myanmar, said it would be better if Cambodia donated money through existing aid mechanisms.

“I understand that this is Cambodia’s heart to help a country which is seriously facing a problem,” she said. “But we should look at the international mechanisms for our humanitarian assistance rather than [donating] directly to the junta, to ensure that it helps the people, not to strengthen military power as the regime is being condemned for killing civilians.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan stressed that the assistance is solely for the people of Myanmar and that Cambodia along with the rest of ASEAN still does not recognize the junta as the legitimate government.

 “It is not part of a political framework, and this does not mean that this humanitarian aid is going to support any regime,” he said.

Cambodia will hold the ASEAN chairmanship next year, Siphan noted, meaning it will play an important role in negotiating for a solution to end the violence in Myanmar. “Cambodia has no power to force any parties to do anything, and we will try not to ask any third party to interfere in this matter,” he said.

In April, ASEAN leaders gathered for a special meeting in Jakarta with Myanmar’s military leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, to discuss the potential for resolution of the country’s ongoing political crisis.

National leaders and representatives to ASEAN reached a five-point consensus, addressing Myanmar’s post-coup landscape, urging an “immediate cessation of violence” in the country.

Hun Sen said in a statement after the summit that Cambodia would assist ASEAN in mitigating the situation in Myanmar.

However, so far, the junta has not implemented the five-point consensus, and arrests, attacks, and killings of civilians continue.

Social researcher Seng Sary said the provision of humanitarian aid is commendable given the seriousness of the COVID crisis in Myanmar.

“However, Cambodia’s actions could confuse the public opinion about supporting a military regime while the government itself has not been able to curb the COVID infection effectively,” he said. “To dispel public misconceptions, the government must first reach out to its own people, especially the more than 2 million Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand who are facing food and vaccine shortages.”

Cambodia had provided both financial and material assistance to fight COVID-19 to neighboring countries, including Laos and Vietnam. Cambodia also has received significant assistance from foreign partners, including millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Even though Cambodia has thus far vaccinated more than 8 million people with at least one dose, and is now vaccinating children aged between 12 and 17, the country continues to record hundreds of new cases every day.

On Tuesday, Cambodia reported 556 new cases of COVID-19 including 167 imported cases and 14 deaths, bringing the total count to 86,597 and 1,718 deaths. The ministry has also recorded 81,918 recovered cases.