Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived in Myanmar Friday for a two-day visit amid heavy criticism from civil society and the public over his meetings with the military junta.
During the visit, Hun Sen is holding bilateral meetings with General Min Aung Hlaing “to discuss and exchange views on bilateral and multilateral cooperation and recent developments in ASEAN”, according to the premier’s Facebook page.
Hun Sen is the first ASEAN leader to meet the military leaders in Myanmar since the junta deposed and arrested the country’s democratically elected government on February 1, 2021. The military has continued to violently suppress ongoing protests, killing more than 1400 people and imprisoning thousands.
Hun Sen’s visit has led to outraged protests in Myanmar, with demonstrators burning and trampling Hun Sen’s photo and waving banners that read “Don’t support another Killing Fields” and “we don’t need you Hun Sen.”
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 the imprisoned democratic leaders, Min Aung Hlaing was barred from the October ASEAN meeting.
Cambodia is the new ASEAN chair and last month Hun Sen said the junta should be permitted to attend ASEAN meetings.
Rights groups have roundly criticized the visit. In a joint statement issued Tuesday, 195 civil society groups in Myanmar and Cambodia wrote that they “strongly condemn Hun Sen for supporting the criminal military junta in Myanmar.”
“The visit is a slap in the face of the eight other Asean member states who had no say in the matter despite previously deciding to halt junta political participation in Asean to pressure Myanmar to live up to its commitments under the Five-Point Consensus plan agreed last April on how to tackle the Myanmar crisis,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director, Human Rights Watch.
Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research, warned the trip could undermine ASEAN efforts.
“Hun Sen’s rogue diplomacy may do more harm than good by breaking ranks with ASEAN’s response to the Myanmar crisis and sending mixed messages to Myanmar’s coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing, who has been blocked from recent high-level ASEAN meetings in a rare rebuke.”
The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and Nation Unity Government, Myanmar’s shadow government, urged Hun Sen to keep the coup victims in mind.
“The dialogue with these military leaders committing human rights abuse and other violations against our community will bring no benefit to Myanmar and its people,” read a statement.
Sophal Ear, a Cambodian political commentator and associate professor at Occidental College in California, said the visit carries the danger of legitimizing the junta.
“How can this be? Should a coup be legitimized like this? It should not be,” he said. “Cambodia has no credibility when it comes to democracy. Of course, the Prime Minister wants to embrace the Myanmar generals — they are, as the Thais say: same same, but different.”
Earlier this week, Joko Widodo, Indonesia president said in a message on Twitter that he spoke with Hun Sen and “reiterated clearly Indonesia[‘s] position on the importance of implementation of 5-Point Consensus to bring democracy back in Myanmar through inclusive dialogue.” He added that: “Should there be no significant progress on the implementation of 5PCs, Myanmar should only be represented by non-political level at ASEAN meetings.”
Despite the criticism, Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan insisted that Cambodia is following the five- points consensus and noted that the country has plenty of relevant experience in reconciliation and nation-building to share.
“The protests of the people of Myanmar are just their right to expression, but what is important is the compromise to find a solution to end the disputes and violence for the people of Myanmar themselves,” he said.