Malaysia’s foreign minister has expressed concerns about Cambodia’s prime minister visiting Myanmar without first consulting fellow Southeast Asian leaders, highlighting regional tensions in how to deal with the crisis-hit country.
Last week, Cambodia’s strongman ruler Hun Sen made the first trip by a foreign leader to Myanmar since a coup last year that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government.
Critics said the visit by Hun Sen, whose country holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), risked legitimising the junta and undermining efforts to isolate the generals.
Speaking to reporters late Thursday, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said Malaysia was “of the opinion that (Hun Sen) has the right to visit Myanmar as head of government of Cambodia”.
“However, we also feel that as he has already assumed the chair of Asean, he could have probably consulted the other Asean leaders and seek their views as to what he should do if he were to go to Myanmar.”
Malaysia has been among several Asean states, alongside Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, which have strongly criticised the military takeover.
The bloc’s foreign ministers were supposed to hold talks in Cambodia next week, but that meeting was postponed.
Saifuddin downplayed suggestions this was due to tensions over Myanmar, insisting it was because of scheduling issues and coronavirus concerns.
Asean has sought to help Myanmar, agreeing to a “five-point consensus” last year aimed at defusing the crisis, but the generals have shown little sign of changing course.
More than 1,400 civilians have been killed as the military cracks down on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
In October, the bloc took the highly unusual step of excluding junta chief Min Aung Hlaing from a summit in response to an Asean envoy being denied a meeting with Suu Kyi.
But Hun Sen met the military leader during his visit, and has insisted the trip could have a positive impact.