11 July 2024

On January 7th, 2022, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen became the first national leader to visit Myanmar’s junta chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Before Hun Sen even set foot in the beleaguered country, his administration’s announcement of the trip to Myanmar, as the current chairman of the ASEAN, drew waves of criticisms.

Apart from the predictable international outcry, expressions of domestic sentiment against the trip were just as loud. Days prior to his trip, two bombs exploded near the Cambodian Embassy.

Although armed revolutionary groups, operating within Yangon Region, had announced that they would be doing all that they could to express rejection of Cambodia’s trip to Myanmar, none of them officially claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Nevertheless, the trip went ahead, despite groups, such as Amnesty International, issuing pointed statements calling for Hun Sen to cancel the trip, adding that, if he really wants to help Myanmar and Cambodia, he must lead ASEAN in a clear and decisive manner to handle grave human rights violations.

The people’s reaction

As soon as local news media reported that Hun Sen would be visiting Myanmar, protests erupted. It used to be just in Yangon, where protests were held when heads of states visited, but even rural areas witnessed negative reactions.

In the Sagaing Region, multiple towns saw mobs of protesters coming out onto the streets.

“His trip is simply to support the military dictatorship. It will not benefit us in any way,” said a protester from Kale in the Sagaing Region.

In the Yangon Region, flash mob protests held up effigies of Hun Sen’s coffin, burning them and posters of both Hun Sen and Min Aung Hlaing.

“Everyone knows how Hun Sen treated his own nation. This is just another dictator meeting yet another dictator. The people gain nothing from this,” said a source close to the participants in the flash mob protest.

The protestors have managed to avoid capture to this day.

There were also strong negative reactions on social media, especially on Hun Sen’s Facebook page, with Myanmar’s citizens deluging the comments section, to the point where comments had to be suspended.

Were there results?

Hun Sen allegedly took a million doses of COVID-19 vaccine with him, as a sign of friendship towards Min Aung Hlaing’s junta administration.

Apart from the supposed gift, nothing has changed.

“Nothing was officially agreed upon regarding the five-point ASEAN policy. Hun Sen did not manage to meet Aung San Suu Kyi. Brunei’s ASEAN Special Representative had made the two main priorities the release of prisoners and meeting Aung San Suu Kyi. None of that was achieved,” said a political analyst in Yangon who requested anonymity.

Regarding meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, recently jailed for five years with more prison time to come, the foreign affairs ministry of Cambodia denied that Hun Sen had even asked to meet her.

Prior to the trip, military spokesperson General Zaw Min Tun, while not confirming that Hun Sen had requested a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, claimed in an interview that Hun Sen would not be allowed to meet with her.

The official statement, released by Min Aung Hlaing, says that Myanmar is thankful for the efforts of Cambodia and ASEAN to help Myanmar and that he will continue to carry out regional development and peace.

Once again, however, there was no mention of any of the five point policies put forward by ASEAN.

In the end, despite Hun Sen’s premature exclamation that the trip might take longer than two days, he stayed for just one and a half days, with the last act for his trip being a visit to a pagoda in Nay Pyi Taw.

There were also rumours, reported by local news media, that a ceasefire for the whole of 2022 was discussed with Hun Sen.

After he had returned home, however, battles only intensified, with the most recent conflict being air strikes on the city of Loikaw by Min Aung Hlaing’s forces, forcing most of its inhabitants to flee.

“There are no negotiations to be had with Min Aung Hlaing in the first place. He knows that the chance of any reconciliation right now is slim to none, especially when he is torturing, killing, looting, burning and bombing civilians. What did Hun Sen think he could do? Have a heart-to-heart talk, from one dictator to another?” asked another source, who also requested anonymity as he has been helping arrange donations, from areas such as Yangon and Mandalay, for war refugees in rural areas.

By David Tun & Sett Naing