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Radio Free Asia

ASEAN top diplomat retreat to exclude Myanmar junta envoy-host Cambodia

2022.02.03 -- The foreign minister of Myanmar's military regime will not be invited to a mid-February Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial retreat, host Cambodia said Thursday, citing the lack of movement on an agreement the regional bloc struck with the junta leader last year.

"Since there has been little progress in carrying out ASEAN's Five-Point Consensus, the ASEAN member states did not reach a consensus to invite Myanmar State Administrative Council foreign minister to participate in the upcoming FM retreat to be hosted by Cambodia," Phnom Penh's foreign ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said in a written comment to RFA's Khmer Service.

"Therefore, we have asked Myanmar to send a non-political representative instead. Meanwhile, we encourage Myanmar to be represented at the retreat by a non-political figure, rather than leaving the seat empty. It is up to Myanmar to decide," he added. The retreat is set for Feb. 16.

The decision came a week after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the rotating chair of ASEAN for 2022, urged junta chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during a video conference to uphold the Five-Point Consensus.

Min Aung Hlaing, who led the Feb. 1, 2020 overthrow of Myanmar's democratically elected government and heads the junta, agreed to the consensus when he met ASEAN leaders in Jakarta last April in a summit convened to address the crisis in Myanmar.

The agreement calls for an end to violence, dialogue between the junta and the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD), and for the ASEAN special envoy and delegation to visit Myanmar to meet with all parties concerned.

Myanmar marked the first anniversary of the coup Tuesday with no progress to show on those issues, while in the past year, security forces have arrested nearly 8,900 civilians and killed more than 1,500. Military conflict has engulfed large swathes of the country of 54 million, displacing more than 300,000 people.

Speaking to RFA's Khmer Service, Cambodian political analyst Seng Sary told said Cambodia has adopted ASEAN's way of dealing with regional affairs after Prime Minister Hun Sen had exhausted solo efforts.

Hun Sen's Jan. 7-8 trip to Myanmar — the first by a foreign leader since the coup — drew widespread criticism for conferring legitimacy on the regime.

"It seems Cambodia is listening to criticism from other ASEAN members and the international community," said Seng Sary.

"Cambodia is disappointed," with the lack of progress with the junta, but "doesn't regard the Burmese issue as its priority," he added, suggesting Phnom Penh would "pass the hot stone" to Indonesia, next year's ASEAN chair.

Myanmar's junta spokesman did not respond to RFA telephone calls for comment, but the head of a pro-military think tank in Myanmar, shrugged off a decision he said was anticipated by the regime and faulted ASEAN for bowing to outside pressure..

"We already expected that Myanmar might not be invited to attend the meeting. This decision is not a big, significant one," said Thein Tun Oo, director of the Thaeninga Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank in Naypyidaw founded by former military officers.

"As we had said before, Myanmar's internal affairs will not be greatly impacted because we are not able to attend the (ASEAN) meetings."

Thein Tun Oo added that "ASEAN's decision making [regarding Myanmar] has departed from its core principles" such as non-interference in fellow members' affairs.

"We accepted there was a change in political dynamics within ASEAN, but we also have found that there was some external pressure from other powerful nations," he added.

Cambodia's announcement was welcomed by the National Unity Government (NUG) of former lawmakers and officials ousted in the coup.

"The ASEAN countries now firmly showed their stand and seriousness on the Five-Point Consensus," said Bo Hla Tint, the NUG's special representative to ASEAN.

He called on ASEAN, other diplomatic partners and U.N. agencies to "seek a more strategic, result-oriented and practical approach to end the violence in the country and allow equal humanitarian access to all communities in need."

Than Soe Naing, a political and ethnic affairs analyst in Myanmar called the exclusion of the junta envoy "good, auspicious news for people of Myanmar and the NUG" that helped dispel concerns that ASEAN might "give a green light" to the junta.

"But now, ASEAN stands firmly on its consensus that aimed to help solve the country's crisis. Myanmar democratic forces are very grateful for the decision."

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service and by Khin Khin Ei and Khat Mar of the Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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