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Cambodian leader to make controversial visit to Myanmar

BANGKOK (AP) Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (AP; pic below) begins a visit to strife-torn Myanmar today that he hopes will invigorate efforts by Southeast Asian nations to start a peace process, but critics say will legitimise the rule of the military that seized power last year and its campaign of violence.

Hun Sen, whose country holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, plans to meet with Myanmar’s leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in an effort to promote a five-point plan endorsed by the group last year and bring about a cease-fire.

“What I would like to bring to the talks is nothing besides the five points, consensus points that were agreed upon by all ASEAN member states,” he said late Wednesday.

They include a halt to violence, talks with the opposition on a peaceful resolution, and permission for a special ASEAN envoy to meet and mediate with all parties in the conflict.

ASEAN leaders, including Min Aung Hlaing, agreed on those points last April. He was barred in October from attending ASEAN meetings after the group’s envoy was prevented from meeting arrested opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, the current special envoy, said Hun Sen’s two-day trip is warranted because the situation in Myanmar is deteriorating rapidly.

Myanmar’s military has said Hun Sen will not be allowed to meet Suu Kyi.
Critics and Myanmar’s opposition say Hun Sen’s visit will add legitimacy to a military that is an international pariah with a history of bloodshed, including a brutal campaign against the Rohingya minority.

It is considered unlikely that opposition groups, including those engaged in armed struggle, will readily accept ASEAN’s plan as long as the military remains in power.

“I expect that ultimately the progress or failure to progress will depend on domestic politics and domestic developments in Myanmar. And in fact, there is not much that ASEAN or the chairman of ASEAN can do,” said senior lecturer Astrid Noren-Nilsson at the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies at Lund University in Sweden.

Hun Sen’s trip “is very good news for Myanmar’s military government, of course, a visit by a head of government from the region is in itself a legitimisation of the junta government,” she said in an interview.

The army seized power last February, preventing Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party from beginning a second term in office. The party had won a landslide victory in national elections in November 2020.

The National Unity Government, an underground opposition group and parallel administration urged Hun Sen to stay away.

“Meeting Min Aung Hlaing, shaking blood-stained hands. It’s not going to be acceptable,” said Dr Sasa, a spokesman for the group who uses one name.

Indonesian President President Joko Widodo said Myanmar’s leader will continue to be excluded from ASEAN meetings unless some progress is made.

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