Cambodia’s strongman ruler Hun Sen held talks Friday with the Myanmar junta — the first foreign leader to visit since the generals seized power almost a year ago.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the February 1 coup which ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government and ended the country’s decade-long dalliance with democracy.
More than 1,400 civilians have been killed as the military cracks down on dissent, according to a local monitoring group, and numerous anti-junta militias have sprung up around the country.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose country currently holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), landed in the capital Naypyidaw with three million facemasks and other medical equipment as a gift for the junta.
He met military leader Min Aung Hlaing and the pair discussed peace efforts and the junta’s future plans, as well as the role of the ASEAN special envoy, the Myanmar government said in a statement.
Ahead of the trip, Hun Sen said he would press the “five-point consensus” that ASEAN leaders agreed to last year as a means of defusing the Myanmar crisis.
And he called for a ceasefire, urging “all relevant parties” to stop the violence that has wracked the country for almost a year.
Rights groups and local anti-junta activists had urged Hun Sen to cancel the two-day trip, saying it legitimised the military regime.
But he insisted the visit could have a positive impact.
International powers have piled diplomatic pressure on Myanmar’s military administration — officially called the State Administration Council — with even traditional allies like China lukewarm in their support.
But repeated condemnations and new rounds of sanctions have shown little sign of blowing the generals off their chosen course.
In the latest atrocity, more than 30 people were killed on Christmas Eve in a massacre blamed on the military.
The visit by Hun Sen — a former Khmer Rouge cadre who has steered Cambodia for three decades — comes as ASEAN seeks to help Myanmar out of the crisis.
The regional bloc has sought to shed its reputation as a toothless talking shop and take action on Myanmar, with leaders agreeing to the “five-point consensus”.
In October, the bloc took the highly unusual step of excluding Min Aung Hlaing from a summit in response to an ASEAN envoy being denied a meeting with Suu Kyi.
Cambodia has said it wants to bring Myanmar back into the fold, and earlier this week foreign minister Prak Sokhonn said the visit aimed to create space for “inclusive dialogue and political trust among all parties”.
The visit has met criticism from rights groups and a group of ousted lawmakers known as the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH).
The CRPH issued a statement saying the trip would bring “no benefits” and the people of Myanmar would be “outraged”.
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch called the trip “a slap in the face of the eight other ASEAN member states who had no say in the matter”.
Amnesty International said the visit may do more harm than good.
Myanmar’s junta has justified the coup by alleging electoral fraud in 2020 elections, and Suu Kyi is facing a raft of charges that could see her jailed for decades.