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PM eyes Myanmar peace troika

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Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) and General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military chief and chairman of the ruling State Administration Council (SAC), meet in Naypyidaw on Friday. SPM

PM eyes Myanmar peace troika

Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that ASEAN member states establish a tripartite committee or diplomatic troika consisting of representatives from Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia that would be tasked with mediating a ceasefire in Myanmar.

The premier also requested that Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa be his adviser while Cambodia chairs ASEAN this year.

Hun Sen made the remarks on January 10 at the inauguration ceremony for a newly upgraded stretch of National Road 5 connecting Battambang province to neighbouring Banteay Meanchey’s Sisophon town after returning from his trip to Myanmar, where he was informed of an “extended ceasefire” through 2022.

“We can form a troika which could include the [2021] ASEAN chair Brunei, current ASEAN chair Cambodia and [2023] ASEAN chair Indonesia, plus the ASEAN Secretariat to facilitate the ceasefire. We’ll need to have a mechanism for implementation [of the ceasefire],” he said.

Hun Sen said the "extended ceasefire" in Myanmar created favourable conditions for talks and dialogue as well as the election that Myanmar previously promised would take place in August 2023 in the aftermath of the dissolution of the civilian-led administration and the military’s declaration of a one year state of emergency.

“I hope that our partners in ASEAN will try to set up a mechanism now while Cambodia is ASEAN chair. The [Myanmar] issue will not be over with by the end of 2022. It will continue into the term of the next ASEAN chair, Indonesia. At that point, the troika should then consist of Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos as the incoming [2024] ASEAN chair. This should be done for continuity purposes,” he said.

Hun Sen also urged Japan to step in by joining a group called “Friends of Myanmar” organised by 2021 ASEAN chair Brunei. He said Japan expressed its support for his trip to Myanmar and that Japanese ambassador Masahiro Mikami had praised his display of initiative in trying to improve the situation there.

“Japan intends to provide strong support to Cambodia to make it successful as the chair of ASEAN,” he said reading Mikami’s message, adding that Japan was also considering the increased provision of humanitarian aid to Myanmar.

Ahead of his meeting with Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa on January 31, Hun Sen said he will request that the foundation chairman serve as adviser to the ASEAN chair for 2022 since he has an in-depth knowledge of Myanmar, having travelled there personally 131 times.

“I want to request that he be an adviser to the ASEAN chair in 2022 to help with facilitation because he knows Myanmar and is familiar with almost all of the parties currently involved [in the conflict]. I will meet him on January 31 and I hope he will agree to this. He is currently the president of Nippon Foundation,” Hun Sen said.

The premier also hit back at criticism by former ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, who took issue in public remarks with his Myanmar trip, saying that Ong had little experience with peacemaking.

“You’re not me so you don’t have the same ideas that I do. You haven’t been the ASEAN chairman, either, just the ASEAN secretary general. I hope that you would understand all this, but it seems like you just don’t get it.

“You haven’t had much experience with the peace process in any country because you were born in a peaceful country. I’m just letting you know what the real problems are and how to solve them,” he said.

Heng Kimkong, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland and a visiting senior research fellow at the Cambodia Development Centre, said it was great that Cambodia as ASEAN chair is being proactive in finding solutions to address the Myanmar crisis.

“This demonstrates the important role that the Kingdom will play in ASEAN this year and proves that Cambodia is a small country with a big heart,” he said.

Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, also appreciated Hun Sen’s approach, saying he was showing good initiative by tackling controversies head-on. However, he urged that a multi-party approach be taken to solve Myanmar’s complex issues.

“Cambodia has shown good intentions here, but the ball is in the court of Myanmar’s military that controls most of the country and has all the power. Participation by all parties to the political conflict in Myanmar will be needed for real negotiations to occur – ideally with facilitation from ASEAN with Cambodia as chair – and other members of the international community involved, if possible.

“It should also be noted that [Cambodia’s] good intentions won’t ensure good results if the correct approach isn’t taken,” Vannak said.

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