Malaysian PM discusses crisis in Myanmar during Cambodia visit

PHNOMPEN, Cambodia (AP) – The leaders of Malaysia and Cambodia discussed the military-led crisis in Myanmar and other regional issues during a meeting in Phnom Penh on Thursday, the two countries said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Jacob met with counterpart Hun Sen and King Nahadom Sikhamoni during his first visit to Cambodia since becoming Malaysia’s leader last August.

Both countries are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with 10 countries, which is trying to help restore peace in Myanmar, where the army seized power a year ago from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Cambodia is chairing ASEAN this year, and Hong Sen has sought to engage with Myanmar’s generals in a conciliatory manner. In January, he became the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar since seizing power, which critics say has given legitimacy to military leadership in what some UN experts have called a civil war.

Malaysia is one of several members of the regional group that has taken a tougher stance against Myanmar’s military government for failing to implement the ASEAN five-point consensus on promoting peace.

In their talks, Hong Sen and Ismail backed the five-point plan, while Malaysia fully supported the work of ASEAN’s Special Representative for Myanmar, Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sohan, the two countries said in a joint statement.

They also discussed tensions in the South China Sea and “geopolitical rivalry between major powers,” the statement said. Many ASEAN members strongly oppose China’s claims to large parts of the South China Sea, but Cambodia, China’s closest ally in the region and without its own claims, supports the positions of its counterparts.

Their differences over Myanmar were clarified last month when Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said Hun Sen had to consult with other ASEAN leaders before heading to Myanmar to meet with its senior military chief. General Min Aung Hlaing.

Hong Sen replied that the Malaysian Foreign Minister should not be “arrogant” and disrespectful to the ASEAN chairman.

Ismail also raised the issue of people displaced from Rakhine State in Myanmar, the statement said. More than 700,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority fled Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 to avoid a brutal campaign against rebels by Myanmar security forces accused of raping and killing and setting fire to thousands of homes.

Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Hong Sen said Cambodia and Malaysia would promote “bilateral trade, investment, education, human resources and tourism to improve the two countries’ economies after COVID-19.”

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