Amid Myanmar Mix-Up, Hun Sen Calls for Patience in Peace-Building

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Prime Minister Hun Sen at an event in Kratie province on February 7, 2022. (Hun Sen’s Facebook page)

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday urged patience in judging his efforts to bring peace to Myanmar as Asean chair. He pointed to a win: playing a part in the release of Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The release is indeed to Min Aung Hlaing’s credit,” Hun Sen said of the junta leader in a speech in Kratie during the morning. “But at least, as I am the chair of Asean who visited there, I also raised the request to release the prisoners, including the professor who was the Australian economic adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the Australian foreign minister had requested to me to raise as an issue with Min Aung Hlaing.”

Turnell, an economics professor, was arrested a year ago shortly after the coup that removed Aung San Suu Kyi from office.

AFP, however, reported later Monday that Myanmar junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun had denied that Turnell was released.

Hun Sen in the evening also acknowledged the mix-up.

“Actually, this Australian national has not been released yet,” Hun Sen said in a Facebook post. “This confusion came from misinformation I received. I would like to apologize for this unintentional mistake.”

As Hun Sen took on the chairmanship of Asean last year, he pushed back against the exclusion of Myanmar from the bloc’s meetings, and said he would work with junta leaders to find a solution there. But critics said Hun Sen’s actions legitimized the coup and weakened Asean’s consensus on Myanmar.

On Monday, Hun Sen said there were some who agreed with him and some who disagreed, and this was the process of democracy.

If he could not find a solution in the next 11 months, the next Asean chair would need to take on the issue, he said.

But people in Myanmar who cursed him had misunderstood him, Hun Sen said.

“You are wrong. I have nothing at stake beside wanting to help Myanmar’s people get out of war,” he said. It was false hope to think the military would disappear, he said.

“If you want to kick out the military [junta], you, please, wage war for another 50 years. I’ve found peace, and protect peace, for my country. … It is really difficult already. If you want to fight each other, please, you fight.”

“My method is to end the flame of war first,” Hun Sen continued. “Then the process of democracy and everything will come after.”

He recalled being shut out of the international community in the 1980s, when the deposed Khmer Rouge continued to have a seat at the U.N.

But finally, the international community had to work with him as the leader of Cambodia toward a peace agreement, Hun Sen said.

“It is an experience that you should all understand. Not just people and dissidents in Myanmar, or anyone else — you wait and see. There will be endless fighting.”

Hun Sen added that he would be willing to head a mission to find a solution in the Korean peninsula.

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