Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said he will appoint his country’s foreign minister, Prak Sokhonn, to be the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ special envoy to Myanmar.
Cambodia in October took over as the coming year’s chair of the 10-member regional bloc, which is referred to as ASEAN. Hun Sen earlier this month announced he will pay an official visit in January to military-ruled Myanmar, seeking to patch up the generals’ battered relationship with the group of nations.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since its army seized power in February, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. After peaceful protests against military rule were put down by lethal force, armed resistance has grown. U.N. experts have warned the country risks sliding into civil war.
Speaking at the inauguration of a new hotel in the capital of Phnom Penh, Hun Sen said he was uncertain that ASEAN or Cambodia could solve Myanmar’s problems, but he should be allowed to try.
Under the guidance of its now-former chair Brunei, the regional bloc took the unprecedented step of not allowing Myanmar’s military leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, to attend its October summit meeting.
The bloc's leadership acted after Myanmar would not agree to let its special envoy meet Suu Kyi, who has been detained since the army’s takeover. The previous special envoy was Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof.
ASEAN has sought to play a mediating role in Myanmar’s crisis given concerns over how it could affect regional peace. In April, it reached a consensus on a five-point plan to try to help restore stability, but Myanmar has made little effort to implement it.
Hun Sen would be the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar since the military takeover there. When he announced his intended Jan. 7-8 visit, he said Myanmar’s leader has the right to attend ASEAN summit meetings. His soft approach to Myanmar’s leadership contrasts sharply with the hard-line taken by the United States and other Western nations, which have applied targeted diplomatic and economic sanctions against the ruling generals.
Hun Sen has been in power for 36 years and has often been accused of heading an authoritarian regime.
ASEAN's member countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.