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Cambodia, ASEAN Express Concern Over Myanmar in Diplomatic Statement

Foreign ministers and representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are seen on a screen during an informal meeting, in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on March 2, 2021. (Courtesy of Malaysian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)

Cambodia and other ASEAN member states expressed concern in a joint statement over the recent coup and ensuing violence against protestors in Myanmar and called for a peaceful resolution.

The statement was issued after an Informal ASEAN Ministers Meeting on Tuesday. The meeting was attended by Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn. The statement said “all sides” must refrain from instigating violence and called for a constructive dialogue to end the turmoil in Myanmar.

“We expressed our concern on the situation in Myanmar and called on all parties to refrain from instigating further violence, and for all sides to exercise utmost restraint as well as flexibility,” read the statement.

The Myanmar military, also known as the Tatmadaw, took control of the country in an early morning coup in early February, claiming that the November general election, which was won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, was tainted and fraudulent.

Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, NLD politicians and hundreds of civil society members have been detained since the coup.

The Myanmar people have since launched a national civil disobedience campaign and nonviolent protests have mushroomed across the country. But security forces have used excessive violence and live ammunition to break up these protests, resulting in 18 reported deaths on Monday.

The statement also offered ASEAN member states’ assistance to Myanmar. It did not have any mention of the November election, mass arrests of dissidents, and the Tatmadaw’s promise to hold a “free and fair” election within a year.

In a Tuesday press release, Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry said ASEAN ministers exchanged views on regional and international issues of common interest, including the current developments in Myanmar.

Koy Kuong, a spokesperson for the Cambodian Foreign Ministry, declined comments on Cambodia’s position and directed the reporter to the ASEAN joint statement.

The Cambodian government has been silent on the Myanmar military’s takeover, claiming it would not interfere in the internal affairs of another country. But, Prime Minister Hun Sen endorsed the November reelection of Aung San Suu Kyi last year.

Paul Chambers, lecturer and special advisor on international affairs at Naresuan University in Thailand, said ASEAN tip-toeing around its 1976 clause that forbids interference in the affairs of other members when dealing with Myanmar’s domestic situation.

“Thus, the statement calls for peace, stability and prosperity in Myanmar rather than an end to human rights violations or a return to democracy. Most ASEAN member states would prefer it that way because most of them are autocratic anyway,” he said in an email.

“This is certainly the standpoint of Cambodia. The statement is all about appropriate diplomatic wording rather than any real scolding by ASEAN.”

Sophal Ear, an associate professor at the Occidental College in California, said Cambodia was itself a “ringleader” of authoritarianism in the region, and would likely be worried about these events inspiring a Cambodian uprising.

“Cambodia wants to avoid saying anything against Myanmar because it would be like criticizing itself,” he said in an e-mail to VOA Khmer.

“This is bad news for Cambodia where the people might be inspired to do the same for themselves, finally. The people, together, can never be defeated,” he added.