Malaysian PM Discusses Myanmar Crisis During Visit to Cambodia

The leaders of Malaysia and Cambodia discussed the crisis in Myanmar and other regional issues during their meeting in Phnom Penh Thursday (24/2), the two countries said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob met his counterpart Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni during his first visit to Cambodia since becoming Malaysia’s leader last August.

Both countries are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has been trying to help restore peace in Myanmar, where the military seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government a year ago.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) and Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (center) in Phnom Penh.  (Photo: Kok KY/Cambodia Government/AFP)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) and Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (center) in Phnom Penh. (Photo: Kok KY/Cambodia Government/AFP)

Cambodia is chair of ASEAN this year, and Hun Sen has sought to engage Myanmar’s generals for a peaceful dialogue. In January, he became the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar since the military takeover, which critics say lends legitimacy to military rule in what some UN experts call civil war.

Malaysia is one of several members of the regional group to take a tough stance against Myanmar’s military government for its failure to implement the five-point ASEAN consensus pushing for peace.

In a joint statement between the two countries, both Hun Sen and Ismail supported the five-point plan, and Malaysia fully supported the efforts of ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn.

They also discussed tensions in the South China Sea and “geopolitical competition among major powers,” the statement said. Many ASEAN members vehemently dispute China’s claims to vast areas of the South China Sea, but Cambodia — China’s closest ally in the region and has no territorial claims in the waters — has been half-hearted in supporting the position of fellow ASEAN members.

Their differences on the Myanmar issue were highlighted last month when Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said Hun Sen should have consulted other ASEAN leaders before traveling to Myanmar to meet the head of the ruling military council, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Hun Sen replied that Malaysia’s foreign minister should not be “arrogant” and disrespect the ASEAN chair.

Ismail also raised the issue of people fleeing Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the statement said. More than 700,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority group fled Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 to escape the brutal repression of Myanmar’s security forces, who are accused of rape and mass killings and the burning of thousands of homes.

In a post-meeting press conference, Hun Sen said Cambodia and Malaysia would promote bilateral trade, investment, education, human resources and tourism, to boost the economies of both countries after the end of the COVID-19 outbreak. (ab/uh)