Hun Sen is set to meet with Myanmar’s military junta leadership on Friday even as pressure mounts on the Cambodian prime minister to refrain from taking unilateral actions as the chair of Asean.
The prime minister will visit Myanmar on Friday for a two-day visit, when he is scheduled to meet junta chief Minh Aung Hlaing. Hun Sen has been touting his visit as a potential icebreaker in a conflict that has only seen an escalation in tensions and violence since the February coup.
Ahead of his visit, Hun Sen said on Wednesday he was going with no preconditions and would keep in mind the five-point consensus reached by Asean last year.
“We want to facilitate the situation and the first point of five-point consensus is the stopping of violence — this is what we want,” he said at a government event on Wednesday.
“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.”
Asean had negotiated a five-point consensus with the Myanmar junta government in April 2021, which includes working toward a cessation of violence and appointment of a special envoy to deal with the junta. Nine Asean states also agreed to keep the junta leadership away from group meetings and not directly deal with its senior leaders, which was broken by the Cambodian government when it hosted the junta’s foreign minister in December.
The prime minister has been enthusiastically defending his visit despite mounting criticism from observers and a few politicians from the region, who have accused Hun Sen of breaking Asean’s unity on dealing with Myanmar by unilaterally planning his visit.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo had a telephone call with Hun Sen where he reiterated the senior Asean member states’ position on Myanmar.
“We discussed development in Myanmar. I reiterated clearly Indonesia position on the importance of implementation of 5-Point Concensus to bring democracy back in Myanmar through inclusive dialogue,” tweeted Widodo on Wednesday.
“Should there be no significant progress on the implementation of 5PCs, Myanmar should only be represented by non-political level at ASEAN meetings,” he posted, referring to the five-point consensus.
There has been strong advocacy in Myanmar pushing back against Hun Sen’s visit through an online campaign, with anti-junta groups posting pictures of Hun Sen and junta leader Min Aung Hlaing with both their faces crossed out and with the caption “We don’t need Hun Sen.” People have protested in the streets as well, holding banners asking Hun Sen to not ”support another killing fields in Myanmar.”
More than 200 protest groups, students’ unions and local communities in Myanmar released a statement on Sunday that was strongly critical of Hun Sen’s visit, and pointed to his role as a Khmer Rouge commander and that “he orchestrated a coup d’etat in 1997” after losing the 1993 election.
“Therefore, Revolution Forces solemnly declare that they denounce the visit of Cambodian premier Hun Sen and will absolutely keep Hun Sen who is backing the terrorist SAC by all measures from setting foot in Myanmar,” the statement reads. The State Administration Council governs Myanmar and is run by Min Aung Hlaing.
Hun Sen has been unperturbed by criticism of his visit, but has also lashed out at comments made by certain observers, specifically picking out Kasit Piromya, a former Thai parliamentarian and foreign minister.
Pirmoya kept up his criticism of the visit during a panel discussion hosted by the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights on Thursday. He said Hun Sen was undermining Asean by visiting Min Aung Hlaing and that he should “behave and not be childish.”
He said that even if Hun Sen wanted to reach out to Myanmar he should have met with his Asean colleagues prior to the visit to decide on their approach.
Thitinan Pongsudirak, who heads the Institute of Security and International Studies at the Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, said Hun Sen would be on the backfoot during any potential negotiations because the Cambodian prime minister had not set any preconditions for the meeting.
More worryingly, he said, if Hun Sen continued to act unilaterally without the consensus of the rest of Asean, it had the potential to severely damage the regional bloc.
“Asean as we know it may be finished,” Pongsudirak said during the same panel discussion.
The last time Cambodia chaired the group, the bloc for the first time failed to issue a joint communique in 2012 as Cambodia opposed language introduced about the contentious South China Sea incursions by China.