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PM stands up for Myanmar trip

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

PM stands up for Myanmar trip

Prime Minister Hun Sen said anyone who "opposes the ceasefire” in Myanmar, which the military has purportedly extended until end-2022, merely wants to see deaths and injuries as a result of war.

The premier made the remarks after his return from Myanmar where he met military chief General Min Aung Hlaing, chairman of the ruling State Administration Council (SAC), in a bid to resolve the ongoing crisis in the predominantly Buddhist country.

“Being against aid for Myanmar means wanting to see people starve to death or perish due to the absence of medicine or Covid-19 vaccines,” Hun Sen said in a Facebook post on January 8.

Myanmar has been embroiled in unrest since February 1, 2021, when the military declared a state of emergency following its claims of irregularities in the general elections at the end of 2020. The military transferred legislative, judicial and executive powers from the civilian administration led by Aung San Suu Kyi to General Min Aung Hlaing as Defence Services commander-in-chief.

The situation has prompted internal disputes and controversy among the ASEAN member states as to which Myanmar government’s representatives are legitimate and should be seated at ASEAN meetings. Cambodia holds the bloc’s rotating chair this year.

Hun Sen reiterated that he was travelling to Myanmar to share his win-win philosophy with the parties to the conflict, saying it successfully brought about national reconciliation, comprehensive peace, stability, development and prosperity in Cambodia.

“He [Hun Sen] also stressed that based on the experiences and lessons learned from Cambodia’s peace process, complete peace and national reconciliation cannot be achieved without participation and agreement from all parties involved,” the Cambodian government said in a press statement.

Hun Sen added that his January 7-8 visit to Myanmar was aimed at achieving a prolonged ceasefire there and for the equitable distribution of aid to all those in need so as to avert a civil war and prevent a worsening humanitarian crisis.

During their meeting, General Min Aung Hlaing confirmed to Hun Sen that the current “ceasefire” with Myanmar’s ethnic armed organisations (EAO) has been extended from February 28 to December 31, 2022.

The general signalled his support for Hun Sen’s request concerning the provision of aid, saying he would open doors for the ASEAN chair to meet other relevant stakeholders in his nation’s ongoing conflict.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn, who has been appointed as special envoy to Myanmar, held a press conference on January 8 after the premier’s return to the Kingdom.

Sokhonn lauded the meeting between the two leaders as having made “good progress” towards the implementation of the five-point consensus reached by ASEAN leaders in April last year with the intention of providing guidelines for ending the turmoil in Myanmar.

“What was achieved in the negotiations and discussions with Myanmar’s leadership was very positive and it is a step towards advancing the implementation of the five-point consensus that the ASEAN leaders had previously agreed on,” Sokhonn said.

Sokhonn also echoed Hun Sen’s statements, saying that those who “oppose such progress” are “war-lovers” who do not want Myanmar to “return to peace”.

The foreign minister said Hun Sen’s visit to Myanmar did not mean that Cambodia was officially acknowledging the current government as claimed by some critics but merely a continuation of diplomatic relations in the same manner as the more that 40 other countries that have embassies and missions there.

“[Those criticisms] are regrettable, but we cannot ban them from expressing such opinions. They see the fact that [Hun Sen] visited Myanmar as somehow helping to legitimise the [current government].

“But actually – as I already clarified – if we are talking about acknowledgement, that isn’t the correct word to use here because many countries have kept their diplomatic ties and their embassies open in Naypyidaw.

“There are more than 40 embassies and missions from around the world still in Myanmar and they continue their diplomatic ties. So, this is not acknowledging anything – we’ve just continued our regular ties between our two countries. That is what I want to stress,” he said.

Sokhonn said Hun Sen’s working visit to Myanmar was historic for Cambodia and demonstrated its determination to contribute to restoring peace and stability in Myanmar with the goal of making ASEAN whole again.

“At the press conference, after our return to the Kingdom this morning, I reaffirmed that our commitment to ensuring the wellbeing of all the people of Myanmar and looking out for their interests – without discrimination – is at the heart of this endeavour,” he said in a Facebook post on January 8.

Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, told The Post that it was a good start to the talks with Myanmar’s current leaders because it resulted in an extended unilateral “ceasefire”. He said those who oppose the current Myanmar government do so because they do not trust it or believe that it would keep its promises.

“The democratic legitimacy of the military there is almost zero in the eyes of the international community and the majority of the Myanmar people. The negotiations to resolve Myanmar’s crisis has no engagement thus far from the parties that should be involved. It shows good intentions, but a positive result is ultimately still far from the expected outcome,” Vannak said.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said Hun Sen’s visit to Myanmar achieved good results in line with the five-point consensus.

If what was stated in the joint-press release is successfully implemented, then it was a good step forward towards future peace and democracy in Myanmar, he added.

“But what is still concerning is whether the ceasefire will be respected and enforced by the other sides of the conflict – the opposition and the ethnic armed militias who have declared war on the military regime – as the general pointed out,” he said.

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