Myanmar's shadow govt official tells Asean to stop Hun Sen's visit

In a file photo taken on Dec 7, 2021, Myanmar's military-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin (left) meets Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - A member of Myanmar's shadow government called on Asean member states to stop Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen from visiting Naypyitaw on Friday (Jan 7), as critics warned that his direct negotiation with the junta may do the bloc irreparable harm.

"We want the other founding members to stand up and say something and to deter Mr Hun Sen from this reckless initiative against the will of the people of Myanmar," said Mr Bo Hla Tint, the Myanmar National Unity Government's envoy to Asean, at a press conference on Thursday organised by the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

Accompanied by Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, Mr Hun Sen will visit Myanmar in what he calls an effort to stop the country from descending into civil war.

Cambodia is chairing Asean this year under the 10-nation bloc's rotating arrangement.

Mr Hun Sen will be meeting junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power on Feb 1 last year but is still struggling to subdue resistance to his unpopular coup.

While the junta has pledged to hold fresh elections in 2023, it has detained more than 400 members of the deposed National League for Democracy party, including its leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Armed insurgent groups have sprung up in response to the violence, which according to human rights groups have left more than 1,400 people dead.

The military has in turn unleashed scorched earth tactics in opposition strongholds, driving tens of thousands of people from their homes.

In a widely condemned incident last week, more than 35 people were torched in the eastern state of Kayah.

While it was not clear if they had been burned alive, victims were bound, and had puncture wounds on their bodies.

During the press conference, speakers cast doubt over the concessions that Mr Hun Sen might be able to extract from Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, while stressing that this high-level visit would confer undue legitimacy to the junta.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak warned that the damage to Asean's credibility may be irreparable.

"The point is not engage with the SAC and have Min Aung Hlaing set the conditions, but it's the other way around," he said, referring to the junta's self-declared name of State Administration Council.

"So Hun Sen is playing a very dangerous game here at Asean's expense. He thinks he can probably have concessions, but those concessions will not amount to very much."

In what is likely linked to local unhappiness over Mr Hun Sen's visit, two bombs exploded near the Cambodian embassy in Yangon on Dec 31.

While the Cambodian leader has said he would not venture beyond the parameters of the Five-Point Consensus that Asean hammered out last April, he did not set any preconditions for his trip.

The road map was sealed during a special meeting of Asean leaders that also involved Gen Min Aung Hlaing.

It called for an immediate cessation of violence, humanitarian aid to Myanmar and constructive dialogue among all parties that a special Asean envoy would help facilitate. It also agreed that the envoy would visit Myanmar to meet all stakeholders concerned.

The junta later said it would consider Asean's "suggestions" if stability returned to Myanmar. Asean, which abides by a principle of non-interference, has made little progress since then.

Last year's special Asean envoy, Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, did not visit Myanmar because the junta would not grant him access to detained civilian leaders such as Ms Suu Kyi.

Brunei, which chaired Asean last year, then invited only a "non-political representative" from Myanmar to attend Asean leaders' summits.

As a result, Myanmar was not represented in three high-level regional meetings last year.

Cambodia has indicated that it is keen for all 10 Asean members to be fully represented again.

It has appointed Mr Prak Sokhonn as the new Asean envoy on Myanmar. He promised on Monday to "not decide on behalf of Myanmar people" but rather facilitate the whole political process.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, after speaking to Mr Hun Sen in a phone call on Tuesday, tweeted that Myanmar should only be represented at a "non-political level at Asean meetings" if there is "no significant progress" on the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus.

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