Prime Minister Hun Sen hit back at critics of his Asean chairmanship on Monday, saying he would not be able to solve the Myanmar crisis in what is left of his term and defending meeting the head of the military junta last month.
The Cambodian prime minister’s meeting with military leader Min Aung Hlaing on January 7 – the first by a head of state since the country’s military coup last year – sparked protests there. Hun Sen was also rebuked by rights watchdogs and other Asean officials, who said his visit legitimized the regime.
On Monday, Hun Sen said he’d leave it to the next Asean chair to sort out the crisis in Myanmar – where authorities have brutally cracked down on pro-democracy protesters — saying he didn’t need the “headache.”
“I have only about 11 months left… How can I solve the issue of Myanmar in one year as an Asean chair,” said Hun Sen, who is one of the world’s longest-ruling leaders.
“I already tried my best,” he added, warning that trying to get rid of the military junta, who overthrew the government of jailed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, would only spark war.
“I would like to ask who will be able to overthrow the current government [Myanmar’ military rulers] …. If you want to make war, please go ahead,” he said.
Styling himself as a peacemaker, Hun Sen continued: “I find and keep peace for my country, which is already enough and difficult…. My strategy is to put out the flames of war, then the democratic process follows.”
An Asean Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting is scheduled to take place next week in Phnom Penh, with Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry telling CamboJA that it will be partially held online and that Myanmar’s foreign minister is not invited.
In April, ASEAN leaders agreed to a five-point consensus that called for an immediate end to violence and political dialogue. When the ASEAN special envoy was prevented from meeting with Suu Kyi, Min Aung Hlaing was barred from an October ASEAN meeting.
Since their January 7 meeting, Hun Sen and Min Aung Hlaing have had a call during which the Cambodian leader asked the junta chief to respect the five-point consensus, implement a ceasefire, and allow an Asean special envoy to visit.
Indonesia, which was one of the member states critical of Hun Sen’s trip, will be the next ASEAN chair in 2023.
Analyst Meas Nee said that Asean is being divided on two main issues, Myanmar and the South China Sea. On the former, Cambodia alone could not be expected to solve the crisis, he said, adding: “Meeting with one side won’t solve the issue.”