Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Mixed response, some junta promises after PM’s trip to Myanmar

Prime Minister Hun Sen (L), is welcomed by Military leader Min Aung Hlaing during a meeting in Myanmar, January 7, 2022. CamboJA/ Hand out photo from An Khuon SamAun National Television of Cambodia
Prime Minister Hun Sen (L), is welcomed by Military leader Min Aung Hlaing during a meeting in Myanmar, January 7, 2022. CamboJA/ Hand out photo from An Khuon SamAun National Television of Cambodia

With the prime minister’s much-anticipated diplomatic venture to Myanmar now in the past, the trip has received a mixed response from a broad array of observers.

Prime Minister Hun Sen himself emphasized fruitful bilateral talks with military junta leaders regarding an extension of a ceasefire between the junta and ethnic armed organizations, as well as agreements on allowing certain humanitarian assistance. 

However, rights groups and certain ASEAN leaders have criticized the visit as legitimizing the military government, with Myanmar anti-junta demonstrators vocally condemning the prime minister in-person and online. Some political analysts in Cambodia have struck a more moderate tone, stating any agreements made on the trip have uncertain value without input from the remaining civilian leadership now organized as the National Unity Government (NUG).

The two-day bilateral visit began Friday and sat Hun Sen with junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing. The prime minister stated at a road rehabilitation inauguration Monday in Battambang that the pair talked about points of multilateral cooperation. That included the junta’s commitments under the ASEAN five-point consensus forged in April, in which the bloc’s leaders agreed upon unanimously and called for an immediate end to violence and return to political dialogue.

Hun Sen said Monday that Min Aung Hlaing had agreed to facilitate a visit from a special envoy to Myanmar, including meetings with ethic armed organizations. The junta leader also told Hun Sen that Myanmar will hold its election by August 2023, though under current conditions it’s highly unlikely such a contest would be viewed as legitimate by the international community.

The prime minister reportedly did not ask to meet with imprisoned civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was toppled and imprisoned by the junta during the military’s February 1 coup. Aung San Suu Kyi was serving as state counsellor after her party, the National League for Democracy, won a sweeping victory over the military proxy party in the November 2020 elections. 

International media outlet reported on Monday that a Myanmar court had sentenced the deposed leader to four more years in prison for a conviction stemming from accusations of illegal possession and import of walkie-talkies, as well as breaking COVID-19 rules.

Prime Minister Hun Sen (L), is welcomed by Military leader Min Aung Hlaing during a meeting in Myanmar, January 7, 2022. CamboJA/ Hand out photo from An Khuon SamAun National Television of Cambodia
Prime Minister Hun Sen (L), is welcomed by Military leader Min Aung Hlaing during a meeting in Myanmar, January 7, 2022. CamboJA/ Hand out photo from An Khuon SamAun National Television of Cambodia

Aung San Suu Kyi was first convicted in December and given a reduced jail sentence of two years, according to CNN. Monday’s trial in the capital Naypyidaw was closed to the media, and the civilian leader’s lawyers have been barred from communicating with journalists and the public.

It’s also unclear if Hun Sen and the junta leader discussed the NUG or its military wing, the People’s Defense Force, which has been waging an insurgency against the junta alongside the ethnic armed organizations. For its part, the junta has been accused of severe human rights violations, including multiple massacres of civilians, since waging its bloody coup.

Before the prime minister’s trip to Myanmar, a coalition of 195 civil society groups in Myanmar and Cambodia issued a joint statement “strongly condemning Hun Sen for supporting the criminal military junta in Myanmar.”

In his Monday remarks, Hun Sen added that a special envoy will continue meeting with parties interested in resolving the multi-faceted civil conflict. He also acknowledged the outraged protesters in Myanmar, who burned and trampled his picture as a statement condemning his visit. 

“I do not consider as guilty the people of Myanmar who have burned my picture or stepped on my picture, but you will see that your lives will be rescued from a war due to the role of ASEAN,” he said.

But some political observers in Cambodia are less certain the agreed-upon ceasefire extension will have a significant impact.

Analyst Em Sovannara said the junta declaration does not ensure an end to violence because it was not made in agreement with the NUG, which he referred to as the shadow government.

“We [Cambodia] have succeeded for one of the five-points,” Sovannara said. “We are waiting to see a mechanism for the meeting and negotiating with the shadow government.”

Another analyst, Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, welcomed that the junta extended its ceasefire after Hun Sen’s visit.

He believed the meeting was a success in meeting goals of ASEAN and the international community in finding an “end of violence as soon as possible in Myanmar,” including provisions of humanitarian assistance.

“It opened the door for advancing negotiation, political dialogue and peace,” Phea said.

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