SINGAPORE – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's meeting with Myanmar's junta chief on Friday and their joint statement issued afterward may cause friction among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states ahead of the group's first meeting of foreign ministers this year, some officials said Saturday.
In a joint statement with the prime minister of Cambodia, this year's ASEAN chair, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said he had extended a ceasefire with all armed ethnic minority groups in Myanmar through the end of this year. The ceasefire was originally set to expire at the end of February.
The junta chief also said that he will assure a special ASEAN envoy to Myanmar that he can meet with all parties involved in the country's political turmoil, including the armed ethnic minority groups.
But some officials from ASEAN countries said there was nothing essential in the statement and voiced doubts about the realization of the junta chief's pledges, adding that the outcome of the meeting could divide the 10-member group, which plans to hold its foreign ministers' meeting on Jan. 18 and 19.
"The statement they issued is full of words but nothing substantive to resolve the current political crisis regarding Myanmar," said Ong Keng Yong, a veteran Singaporean diplomat who is a former ASEAN secretary-general.
"Cambodia's strategy for the visit by Hun Sen is getting a fig leaf to allow Phnom Penh to invite Myanmar's foreign minister to attend ASEAN's foreign minister's retreat," he said.
Last month, Hun Sen said the leader and ministers of the junta should be allowed to attend meetings of ASEAN, though the group has excluded them since October as the junta has ignored a so-called five-point consensus made at ASEAN's special summit in April, which mentioned a call for an immediate end to violence in Myanmar and the dispatch of the special envoy to meet with all parties concerned in the country.
A senior official from another ASEAN country, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the joint statement is just "the same language" or even "weaker or misdirected" as Cambodia made concessions to Myanmar.
The official also took issue with the statement saying that the implementation of the five-point consensus "should be complementary" to the Myanmar junta's policy called a Five Point Roadmap, which includes a promise of "free and fair multiparty democratic elections" and of handing over state duties to the winning political party in accordance with democratic standards.
The military government has alleged fraud in a 2020 November election that gave the National League for Democracy party led by detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi a landslide victory.
"It is a major concession to mention the SAC Five Point Road map, as other ASEAN statements don't endorse that as the people of Myanmar reject it," the official said, referring to Myanmar's State Administration Council, the official name of the junta that seized power after the February 2021 coup.
While some officials point to a positive aspect of the meeting between Cambodia and Myanmar by stressing the importance of keeping the windows of communication open with the junta, such ASEAN members as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are likely to be cautious about the content of the joint statement and expect Cambodia not to invite the junta chief and any political figures from Myanmar to its meetings.
The members of ASEAN are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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