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PM defends UN envoy’s Myanmar remarks

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Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Tuesday. SPM

PM defends UN envoy’s Myanmar remarks

Prime Minister Hun Sen denounced criticism of power sharing in Myanmar as a possible pathway to peace, as he speculated that an extremist group may emerge and prolong the violence were it not to happen.

He also doubled down on his decisions taken so far to deescalate the situation in the embattled nation, insisting that he had the support of other ASEAN member states and Japan.

Speaking at the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Cheung Ek Wastewater Treatment Facility in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on February 22, Hun Sen said his goal remained solely to avoid violence and prevent the situation in Myanmar from escalating.

“If the violence continues, we will try to reduce it. At the same time, the people of Myanmar are in need of humanitarian aid, including Covid-19 prevention assistance. I have been motivated by Japan and ASEAN countries to [take action],” he said.

The premier lamented what he considered to be unreasonable demands from some observers. “Some people want me to solve [the] Myanmar issue in just 12 months. How can we solve it [like that]? And at the same time, some others do not want me to solve it,” he said, without specifying who he was referring to.

“I don’t care what you are saying. I will not put away my effort as a friend of Myanmar, as one of the 10 ASEAN members, and currently as the chair of ASEAN. I will push ASEAN special envoy on Myanmar [Prak Sokhonn] to continue his work as in his mandate.”

Hun Sen said he was determined to continue in his efforts to mediate and provide aid to Myanmar with cooperation from ASEAN members and Japan, who he believed had “experience and good knowledge” of the country, especially with regards to diplomacy tactics and aid distribution, to be able to assist Myanmar to emerge from this “difficult time”.

Without naming anyone, Hun Sen said “some people just want to see results immediately” – echoing sentiments he expressed last week – and were oblivious to the fact that the military had been in control of Myanmar for 70 years.

He again highlighted what he believed to be unjust criticism of the UN secretary-general’s special envoy on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer, who has been under fire for suggesting “power sharing” as a possible compromise to achieve stability.

Hun Sen warned that it could potentially be a self-destructive move for any group to fight back against the military, saying: “It looks like a tendency is emerging now, that is, a tendency to completely destroy Myanmar’s military. Will they be satisfied with this?

“If you choose to do this, it is no different [than] pushing your head against the wall with nails,” he said, referring to possible retaliation by the Myanmar military against any attempt to violence.

He brought up Myanmar’s 2008 constitution as already having paved the way for a power sharing arrangement. The constitution states that 25 per cent of parliament members can be appointed by the General of the Army, and permitted the military to appoint a vice-president and ministers of National Defense, Interior, and Borders.

“The power of the military has been enshrined in their constitution. So why did the UN secretary-general’s special envoy on Myanmar [Heyzer] receive opposition when she spoke about power division in Myanmar?

“Therefore, a group of extremists will emerge and this group is the one who [will] prolong or wage war [in Myanmar],” Hun Sen said.

Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said Hun Sen’s decisions to mitigate the Myanmar situation together with other ASEAN members and partners have been justified. He said the premier should not take undue risk by approaching or confronting the military “on his own”.

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