Malaysian minister criticises Hun Sen for meeting Myanmar leader

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen became the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar since the junta seized power in a coup nearly a year ago. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (BLOOMBERG) - Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah has criticised Cambodia's prime minister for taking unilateral action in meeting the leader of Myanmar's junta, as the region remains divided over how to approach the troubled nation.

Cambodia this year took over the rotating annual chairmanship of Asean, and Prime Minister Hun Sen last week became the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar since the junta seized power in a coup nearly a year ago.

His two-day trip drew criticism that it would legitimise the rule of the junta, which has been engaged in intensifying battles with armed groups.

"We would expect that he could have at least consulted - if not all - a few of his brother leaders as to what he should say," Mr Saifuddin told reporters on Thursday evening (Jan 13), referring to the regional bloc, of which Myanmar is a member.

"Not that we are trying to teach him but normally, the Asean chairs consult with the others any time (they) want to do something that is considered significant."

Mr Hun Sen, a strongman who has ruled Cambodia for 36 years after a bloody civil war, has said his visit was aimed at helping to put an end to the violence in Myanmar.

Mr Saifuddin said, however, the trip achieved nothing even after coup leader Min Aung Hlaing pledged to extend a ceasefire with armed ethnic groups.

The Myanmar regime remains in open conflict with several armed groups, including upstart forces led by allies of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The junta's security forces have killed nearly 1,470 people since the coup as at Thursday, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi this week commended Cambodia's positive efforts to resolve the situation, resulting in progress towards a ceasefire.

The United States has, meanwhile, said that Cambodia needs to press for a five-point consensus agreed between Myanmar and Asean last year as well as a meaningful visit with a special envoy to meet all parties concerned.

Mr Hun Sen has reversed the stance of previous chair Brunei, which led efforts within the 10-nation bloc to deny General Min Aung Hlaing from participating in a virtual big-ticket summit last year, saying the Myanmar regime has the right to attend Asean meetings.

Mr Saifuddin said: "We maintain our position that until there is clear progress on the five-point consensus, Myanmar's representation at the Asean summit and related summits at the end of the year should remain non-political."

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