Hun Sen Arrives in Myanmar to Burning of Portraits, Online Abuse

Protestors in Kalay township in Myanmar burn images of Prime Minister Hun Sen and junta leader Min Aung Hlaing on Jaunary7, 2021. (General Strike Coordination Body)
Protestors in Kalay township in Myanmar burn images of Prime Minister Hun Sen and junta leader Min Aung Hlaing on Jaunary 7, 2022. (General Strike Coordination Body)

YANGON, Myanmar — Comments to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Facebook page were quickly clamped down on Friday as he posted a video of his arrival to Myanmar for a two-day visit.

“Get Out,” commenters wrote in Burmese. “Shameless,” “RIP,” they repeated.

“Samdech Hun Sen, Cambodian Prime Minister limited who can comment on this post,” Facebook’s message soon appeared below the video.

Myanmar state-owned media said the “working visit” would feature “a bilateral meeting to discuss and exchange views on matters pertaining to the promotion of bilateral relations and cooperation as well as on regional matters of common interests including Asean.” Agence Kampuchea Presse touted Cambodia’s donation of 3 million masks to Myanmar after his arrival to the capital Naypyidaw.

But Minn Khant Kyaw Linn, a student union activist and member of the General Strike Coordination Body of Myanmar, was not welcoming the masks or visit.

The people of Myanmar would oppose anyone who tries to recognize the military council, he said.

“Our belief is clear: Those who recognize the military are considered enemies. We will constantly oppose any of them who try to support the military, because the military is killing Myanmar people and violating human rights in Myanmar,” Minn Khant Kyaw Linn told VOD.

Hun Sen’s visit in Myanmar could muddy international perceptions of the military council’s illegitimacy, he said. “My point of view is that Hun Sen is trying to bring the military into the international arena again. We are looking forward to this visit with interest.”

Minn Khant Kyaw Linn added that Asean was divided between “inland dictatorships” and “democratic archipelagos,” and that Hun Sen’s trip would be a journey of “mutual authoritarianism.”

As of the afternoon, there had been no official mention of Hun Sen’s stated intention to negotiate a resolution to the escalating conflict in the country sparked by the military’s coup in February.

The Cambodian prime minister had urged in a speech last month to “let Hun Sen do it” — a self-referential call for negotiations with the military junta, in apparent breach of an Asean consensus and described by observers as reckless “cowboy diplomacy.”

On Wednesday, Hun Sen said his priority would be trying to stop the violence in Myanmar. “Whether negotiations will work or not, I will ask for a ceasefire first because it is for the benefit of flesh and blood to prevent people from dying and getting injured,” he said.

The days leading to the visit, however, saw strikes across the country opposing the visit, and two bomb blasts struck near the Cambodian Embassy in Yangon last week.

A mass of strikes were again carried out on Thursday in Yinmarbin, Depayin, Ayadaw and Kalay in Sagaing region and Dawei in Tanintharyi region. Dozens of people participated in each strike, burning photos of Hun Sen and holding up signs saying, “We don’t want you Hun Sen,” and “Never ever let Hun Sen set foot in Burma.”

The strikes continued on Friday, including in Kalay and Shwe Bo in Sagaing region, and Hpa-kant in Kachin state.

Ko Htet Myat Aung, interim chairman of the Yadanabon University Students’ Union and protest leader in Mandalay, said their group was the first to hold a strike against Hun Sen’s trip, protesting on December 20.

There were many risks to holding protests, and protests in a city could lead to arrest at any time, he said. Many preparations were needed, but it was also the support of people that helped keep the protests going, he said.

“During the protests, people nearby surrounded us, took care of us, and allowed us to stay in their home or places in dangerous situations. All people are against the dictator, so it is successful because of all of the cooperation,” he said.

The Yadanabon University Students’ Union also attended the ASEAN University Conference in Brunei on December 5, where the union told participants about the situation in Myanmar, particularly Cambodia students about their opposition to Hun Sen’s visit.

“People from all classes are now opposed to the dictatorship, no longer working and being for the military council for the common benefit. But if you cooperate with the organization that is killing the Myanmar people, that person or country or organization is unjust. Therefore, we are opposing Hun Sen now,” Ko Htet Myat Aung added.

Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on January 7, 2022. (Hun Sen's Facebook page)
Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on January 7, 2022. (Hun Sen’s Facebook page)

Yangon on the day of Hun Sen’s arrival remained calm, with little security in front of the Cambodian Embassy. However, the country again suffered from bomb blasts, including near a Yangon police station and three explosions at a customs office in Pansodan, also in the city.

The General Strike Coordination Body’s Ma Khin Sandar — like several international human rights groups — called on Hun Sen to work with “legitimate” organizations, including the National Unity Government and Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.

“He should meet first with NUG representatives and meet with other stakeholders of the country. He shouldn’t meet with SAC as the group is [creating] killing fields in Myanmar,” Ma Khin Sandar said, referring to the State Administration Council run by general Min Aung Hlaing.

“We, the Myanmar people, are against the visit and meeting with SAC of Hun Sen, as it will just give encouragement to the illegitimate junta to continue its war of terror against the people of the country,” Ma Khin Sandar said. “His meeting with SAC will just endorse and encourage the junta to continue to create more and more killing fields in Myanmar as he did in Cambodia to the Khmer people.”

The journalist who reported this story is in Myanmar and has used a pseudonym due to safety concerns.

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