Cambodian Leader Draws People’s Fury as He Arrives in Junta-Ruled Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 7 January 2022

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen turned out to be an unwelcome visitor to Myanmar as he began his two-day trip to the country on Friday, his arrival strenuously denounced by the people of the Southeast Asia nation for his engagement with the Myanmar regime, which has killed more than 1,300 people since seizing power last year.

Hun Sen landed in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw on Friday morning for a two-day visit at the invitation of the country’s coup leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. He met with the general and ……………., becoming the first foreign leader to meet the junta leadership since the coup.

Many fear his visit will confer on Min Aung Hlaing and his junta the legitimacy they have so far failed to establish, as Cambodia currently holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which Myanmar belongs. They also questioned how someone with a record as a notorious violator of human rights could hold the junta to account for its abuses.

People stage a protest against Hun Sen over his engagement with the regime. / CJ

Since the moment it was announced last month, Hun Sen’s visit has been denounced by critics who warned his unilateral initiative could have far-reaching consequences for ASEAN, potentially undermining the regional bloc’s credibility to mediate a political solution.

Relations between ASEAN and Myanmar turned sour last year when the bloc excluded Min Aung Hlaing from its summit over his failure to implement a peace plan known as the Five Point Consensus, which he had agreed with the regional group. The agreed steps include an immediate cessation of violence in the country and allowing the bloc’s special envoy to visit, among others.

Hun Sen responded that he was just trying to bring Myanmar back into the ASEAN fold and urged his critics not to pre-judge his visit, adding that his goals were “not far from” the consensus.

His assurances failed to appease many in Myanmar, however. His visit has met with a level of denunciation unprecedented for a visiting foreign dignity.

A few days before his visit, a series of explosions occurred near the Cambodian Embassy in Yangon. Across the country, people have staged protests against his visit, holding placards reading, “We Don’t Need You Hun Sen,” and “You are Not Welcomed to Myanmar” while stepping on portraits of him. Hundreds of anti-junta groups issued a statement urging Hun Sen to call off the visit.

On the eve of his departure for Naypyitaw, Hun Sen experienced the condemnation up close and personal as Myanmar people flocked to his Facebook page to post angry comments about his visit under his 41st wedding anniversary post.  Many left comments such as “Shame on You” or “We don’t need you Mr Hun Sen , you’re not welcome” accompanied by memes portraying Min Aung Hlaing and Hun Sen. Another said, “You dictator is ruling Cambodia against the will of Cambodians. Now trying to support Burmese military to be the same. Sorry your days are numbered.”

Hun Sen’s visit coincides with an escalation of the regime’s attacks on armed resistance forces, mainly made up of civilians who reject the regime’s rule in the country’s southeastern Kayah State.

Shortly before his visit, the Cambodian prime minister discussed developments in Myanmar via phone with Indonesian President Joko Widodo. The president later said in a Twitter post that during the call he reiterated clearly Indonesia’s position on the importance of implementing the five-point consensus to bring democracy back to Myanmar through inclusive dialogue.

“Should there be no significant progress on the implementation of 5PCs [the five-point consensus], Myanmar should only be represented by non-political level at ASEAN meetings,” he posted on Wednesday.

On Friday, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), the parliamentary wing of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), said military leaders who commit human rights abuses and other violations should be isolated, adding that engaging with them could have no positive outcomes for Myanmar and its people.

Regime-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin (right) welcomes Hun Sen in Naypyitaw on Friday morning.

“We reiterate our call for cooperation only with the legitimate institutions, including the CRPH comprising those elected by the people of Myanmar, and the NUG,” it said in its announcement.

Human Rights Watch said Hun Sen’s meeting as ASEAN chair with Myanmar’s military leadership is an affront to the people of Myanmar, who strongly oppose the visit.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Hun Sen’s decision to meet, without preconditions, the leaders of Myanmar’s military will only lend underserved international legitimacy to the junta.

“A unilateral visit by Hun Sen is doomed to not yield solutions, especially if he won’t meet and confer with the representatives of the people elected to parliament in the November 2020 election, such as the National Unity Government, which has the support of most elected MPs,” he said.

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