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Cambodia’s Hun Sen asks for talks with Suu Kyi

Request was made during video call with Myanmar’s junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing
A protester covered in fake blood flashes the three-finger salute next to an image of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration outside the UN office in Bangkok on Feb. 1 to mark the third anniversary of the coup in Myanmar.

A protester covered in fake blood flashes the three-finger salute next to an image of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration outside the UN office in Bangkok on Feb. 1 to mark the third anniversary of the coup in Myanmar. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 08, 2024 05:28 AM GMT
Updated: May 08, 2024 05:36 AM GMT

Former Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has requested talks with Myanmar’s jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi who was ousted by a military coup more than three years ago that tipped the country into a bloody civil war.

Hun Sen, who transferred power to his eldest son last year, made the request on May 7 during a video conference with embattled junta chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, following a previous offer to hold talks with the warring parties a month ago.

According to the semi-official mouthpiece Fresh News, talks would take place via a conference call but critics and forces opposed to the junta say Hun Sen’s approach would be unwelcome, given his support of the junta and his failed attempts to push an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) five-point peace plan.

One source with the People’s Defence Force (PDF) — the armed wing of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) — added that Hun Sen’s timing was also inappropriate, given his interest in the civil war seemed more like an attempt to save Hlaing from further battlefield defeats.

“Hun Sen was not interested in talks with us when this began in 2021 but now we have the upper hand on the battlefield in a war the junta can’t win and he wants to talk? Given his history and close ties with Hlaing, this will not go too far,” she said.

Hlaing is on the back foot after six months of extensive defeats inflicted by the PDF and about 20 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) who now control most of the country, including Myanmar’s borders with Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh.

During May 7 talks with Hlaing, Hun Sen “underlined the importance of implementing the Five-Point Consensus” with “Myanmar taking a leadership role” while Hlaing congratulated Hun Sen — currently president of the Cambodian Senate — on his election victories.

Hun Sen asked for talks with Suu Kyi while highlighting past collaborations as colleagues in ASEAN affairs before she was ousted in February 2021 and he encouraged Myanmar to continue appointing representatives to key ASEAN meetings.

Suu Kyi, 78, and former president Win Myint, 72, were moved from prison to house arrest about three weeks ago amid a severe heatwave across much of Southeast Asia.

ASEAN has been sharply criticized for its lack of unity in response to a conflict which, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, has claimed at least 50,000 lives, including at least 8,000 civilians, and displaced some 3 million people.

To counter criticisms, Thailand recently urged ASEAN to establish a troika comprising Indonesia, Malaysia and the current chair Laos to negotiate with the Myanmar junta.

Foreign ministers from each country would lead negotiations, Thai foreign ministry spokesman Nikorndej Balankura said, adding a “troika” or a “troika-plus” could be expanded to include other nations.

The junta has also been banned from sending envoys to represent Myanmar at ASEAN meetings, however, non-political representatives have been approved, causing an outcry among human rights groups, more recently at an ASEAN meet in New Zealand in mid-April.

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