By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ISTANBUL (AA) – Cambodia’s prime minister on Thursday struck a defiant note as he defended his upcoming January trip to Myanmar.
Hun Sen has faced backlash over his plans to visit Myanmar, where a military junta has been in power since toppling Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government in a coup on Feb. 1.
Critics say his visit – the first by a foreign leader since the coup – will undermine efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and give recognition to the Myanmar junta.
However, Hun Sen questioned if “there is any ASEAN nation that has so far cut diplomatic ties with Myanmar,” Cambodia’s state-run AKP News reported.
Myanmar was excluded from an ASEAN meeting in late October, as it declined to send another representative after the regional bloc barred coup leader Min Aung Hlaing from the summit for failing to implement a peace plan agreed with ASEAN in April.
However, Cambodia, ASEAN’s rotating chair for 2022, has vowed to push for direct engagement with Myanmar’s military rulers.
The junta’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin visited Cambodia earlier this month for talks with top officials, including Premier Hun Sen, who then confirmed that he would travel to Myanmar on Jan. 7-8.
“Don’t complain now, let me do it first. Everyone can complain against me in 2023,” Hun Sen said on Thursday, referring to the end of Cambodia’s term as ASEAN chair.
Reiterating that “ASEAN should have 10, not nine members,” he said his priority in talks with Myanmar’s military leaders “will be ASEAN’s centrality and consensus, and non-violence in Myanmar.”
“In April, a five-point consensus on the Myanmar crisis was reached by ASEAN member states, but the main point now is how to stop the violence there,” the premier said.
The Myanmar military, locally known as Tatmadaw, has killed over 1,300 people and arrested more than 11,000 since it seized power in February and jailed the leadership of the National League for Democracy party, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, according to data compiled by local group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint were sentenced to four years in prison by a military court on Dec. 6, a conviction that the UN human rights chief said was the result of a “sham trial … [that is] nothing but politically motivated.”