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Cambodia Insists on Naming New ASEAN Envoy on Myanmar, Rejecting Malaysia's Call to Keep Incumbent

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen holds the ceremonial gavel in a virtual meeting as Cambodia takes over the ASEAN chairmanship, from Brunei, on Thursday, October 28, 2021.

Cambodia is off to a combative start to its coming ASEAN chairmanship, dismissing Malaysia’s call to reappoint the bloc’s special envoy to Myanmar and reiterating Cambodia’s authority to assign its own diplomat to the post in January.

Cambodian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Koy Kuong told VOA Khmer that Bruneian Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof’s tenure as bloc’s envoy to Myanmar would conclude by the end of December, when Brunei’s chairmanship wraps up.

The remarks from Phnom Penh came after Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah suggested in a speech that Yusof, who was appointed to the post in August, should remain in the post after the change of ASEAN’s chair.

“The opinion of Malaysian foreign minister regarding the ASEAN Chair's special envoy could put into question his prejudice on Cambodia’s resolve and privilege as ASEAN chair in 2022 to resolve the Myanmar crisis,” said Koy Kuong, who is also a secretary of state at the foreign ministry.

While Japanese news outlet Nikkei Asia cited unnamed Cambodian officials as saying the new envoy could be the Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, Koy Kuong declined to name potential candidates.

“You will know when it is the time,” he told VOA Khmer.

Protesters march holding slogans during a protest at Pazundaung township in Yangon, Myanmar, Wednesday July 14, 2021.
Protesters march holding slogans during a protest at Pazundaung township in Yangon, Myanmar, Wednesday July 14, 2021.

Since Myanmar’s military junta ousted the democratically elected government in February, some 1,000 people have been killed in clashes with armed forces, some 6,000 have been arrested, and the country’s economy is expected to contract 18% this fiscal year.

In a rare rebuke of one of its own members last month, ASEAN refused to allow leaders of the junta to represent Myanmar at the annual ASEAN summit, inviting a nonpolitical representative instead.

That followed the military government refusing Yusof’s request to visit toppled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been on trial for myriad charges widely seen as politically motivated.

Koy Kuong said Yusof deserves praise for his brief tenure in the ambassadorial role, adding “Cambodia will endeavor to fulfil its roles in forging solidarity to implement the five-point consensus on Myanmar and in strengthening the ASEAN's unity and centrality.”

Yusof was appointed to enforce the implementation ASEAN’s so-called “five-point consensus” on Myanmar, which was struck during an April summit and calls for a cessation of violence, constructive dialogue, provision of humanitarian assistance, the appointment of a special envoy, and a visit by that envoy to Myanmar.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, during the ASEAN summit last month, blamed the slow progress on the plan on the Burmese junta’s “lack of cooperation,” adding the country’s top general would not be invited to the upcoming Asia-Europe meeting hosted by Cambodia later November.

Sun Kim, a lecturer of international relations at Phnom Penh’s Pannasastra University, said Cambodia’s next move on Myanmar as ASEAN Chair will depend on the rest of the bloc and major external powers, including China.

“Cambodia may want to stand in line with other member states and it may prefer to play a more coordinating and reconciliatory role rather than a commanding one,” Sun Kim told VOA Khmer.

Critics of Hun Sen, including longtime opposition leader in exile Sam Rainsy, have questioned the government’s role to lead ASEAN’s efforts to rein in Myanmar’s junta, given its deteriorating human rights records at home.