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Cambodia Remains Noncommittal on Effort to Push for Fresh Election in Myanmar

Anti-coup protesters display placards near the Indonesian Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (AP Photo)

The Cambodian government said Myanmar’s decision to hold a post-coup election was an “internal affair” of the ASEAN nation, even as Cambodia’s military chief granted an audience to the new Tatmadaw envoy in Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian government has been silent on the Myanmar military’s takeover of the country, months after the electorate voted back Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party in the November general election.

Tatmadaw chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing launched the coup on February 01, just hours before the new parliament was scheduled to convene in its inaugural session.

Aung San Suu Kyi, senior government and NLD leaders, and civil society members were arrested, and many more in the following weeks, as a large-scale civil disobedience campaign led by Myanmar citizens has seen daily protests against the February coup.

General Vong Pisen, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, granted an audience on Wednesday to the newly-appointed military attaché of the Myanmar Embassy in Phnom Penh, Brigadier General Thura Hla Min.

An RCAF readout of the meeting reports that Thura Hla Min briefed Vong Pisen on Myanmar’s political situation.

“Brigadier General clarified that Myanmar will hold a new general election which will be free and fair and provide assurance to its foreign policy,” said the readouts.

The Tatmadaw has justified the coup alleging that the November election was plagued with fraud and inconsistencies. It said it needed to take over to ensure a clean election next year.

Vong Pisen reaffirmed to military attaché that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government would “respect the sovereignty of friendly countries, shall not interfere in each other’s internal affairs, and shall especially respect ASEAN Charter.”

According to the readout, Vong Pisen wished that Myanmar would return to stability, and reinforced their military relations.

FILE - Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is welcomed by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on April 30, 2019. (REUTERS/Samrang Pring)
FILE - Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is welcomed by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on April 30, 2019. (REUTERS/Samrang Pring)

Po Sovinda, a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, said Cambodia’s position on the Myanmar crisis reflected Phnom Penh’s dislike of what it considered foreign interference in its internal affairs.

“In theory, they mean that if I don’t touch you, you shall not touch me either. Meaning that if Cambodia does not touch Burma’s internal politics, Myanmar shall not be able to touch on Cambodia’s internal politics either,” Sovinda told VOA Khmer during a phone call.

Sovinda said Vientiane, Hanoi, and Bangkok could share Cambodia’s position, which would limit efforts made by Indonesia or ASEAN to find a quick resolution, and potential reversal, of the February coup.

Sovinda’s comments come shortly after Myanmar’s military-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin made a ten-hour visit to Bangkok, where he met Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

Marsudi has been at the forefront of Indonesia’s efforts to broker a resolution to the post-coup political stalemate in Myanmar.

Koy Kuong, a spokesperson for the Cambodian Foreign Ministry, said Marsudi also reached out to Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn to discuss the Myanmar crisis.

“Cambodia’s position will be in line with the joint position of ASEAN which shall be reached based on consensus principles,” Koy Kuong told VOA Khmer in a text message.

Indonesia’s rally for a regional resolution to the Myanmar crisis was first reported by Reuters, which said that Jakarta was proposing a negotiation with Tatmadaw to stand by its promise of holding an election within a year – an election where ASEAN member states would send election observers.

The revelation resulted in Burmese protestors protesting outside the Indonesian embassy in Yangon to show their disapproval. Protestors have called on Indonesia and ASEAN to honor the November 2020 election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Asked whether Phnom Penh would be of a view that Myanmar should hold a new general election, Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Koy Kuong said, “It is the internal affairs of Myanmar.”