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Cambodian FM criticized for meeting only Junta on Myanmar trip

Prak Sokhonn, Cambodian foreign minister and ASEAN special envoy, addresses a press conference at Phnom Penh International Airport, March 23, 2022. Supplied
Prak Sokhonn, Cambodian foreign minister and ASEAN special envoy, addresses a press conference at Phnom Penh International Airport, March 23, 2022. Supplied

Rights groups have slammed Cambodian Foreign Minister and ASEAN special envoy Prak Sokhonn for meeting the leader of Myanmar’s military junta on Tuesday, just months after Prime Minister Hun Sen was criticized for doing the same.

“Prak Sakhonn is granting the junta a public relations windfall that undermines the limited regional pressure being placed on Myanmar,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Right Watch, said in a statement.

“At every step of the way as ASEAN chair, the Cambodian government has played the game crooked, with a clear tilt to the side of the junta at the expense of imprisoned (National League for Democracy) politicians and civil society activists,” he added.

Sokhonn failed to meet with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, or any pro-democracy politicians during his three-day visit Myanmar, but told a press conference on his return that he had endeavored to do so.

“We were sorry that we couldn’t meet all the parties that we had suggested,” he said, noting that his request to meet Suu Kyi had failed and he hoped to meet with her on his next visit.

However, he met with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who he said he’d urged to implement ASEAN’s five-point consensus to end the crisis – which began last year when the military deposed and jailed Suu Kyi.

“All Myanmar parties are not yet ready for talks,” he said. “They continue to be highly committed to the struggle in all forms to destroy each other, especially with weapons.”

He added that he had asked Myanmar to implement a humanitarian corridor, which he claimed would open in late April or early May to allow in aid.

However, he said, Cambodia recognized that “one visit cannot solve all problems.”

There were small protests in Myanmar during Sokhonn’s visit, Reuters reported, with some activists holding signs telling the Cambodian minister he was unwelcome.

Prime Minister Hun Sen met with Min Aung Hlaing on January 7, the first visit by a head of state since the coup, and was criticized for lending legitimacy to the regime.

Analyst Em Sovannara said Wednesday that Cambodia should have met with all parties, and approached the deposed civilian government directly instead of trying to go through the junta.

“If Cambodia continues to use the old mechanism, as it did in January when they only met with the military, I think the negotiation process will not be successful,” he said.

Earlier this week, UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet warned Myanmar was facing a “profound crisis,” with more than 14.4 million people in humanitarian need. 

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