01/07/2022 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has arrived in Myanmar today. This visit marks the first head-of-state to visit the Myanmar’s military junta, the Tatmadaw, as they conduct a brutal military campaign to seize control of the country following last February’s coup.
Following the Tatmadaw’s coup d’état and arrest of Myanmar’s leader Aung Sung Suu Kyi, the international community has sought to alienate the military junta and deny their legitimacy as they engage in a civil war against a makeshift alliance of the exiled civilian government and multiple ethnic armed groups. This conflict has seen grave atrocities at the hands of the junta, as they have targeted regions heavily occupied by ethnic and religious minorities. A significant amount of the fighting has surrounded Chin and Kayah states, where Christians and churches have been targeted regularly for resisting the junta’s power grab.
The international community’s isolation of the junta has been having a noticeable effect as their list of allies grows thin, and their participation in critical international forums, like the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been halted. Their rejection by the United Nations is most notable, as it is a status that was awarded similarly to the Taliban of Afghanistan. The strategy has made small gains through 2021, as western nations have also come alongside the effort to increase pressure on the regime.
However, as Hun Sen’s Cambodia takes over the chairmanship of the ASEAN bloc this year, his quick visit to Myanmar may quickly undermine the solidarity that ASEAN and the international community has shown, which has shaken the Myanmar junta and denied its legitimacy in the region. His visit has potentially put the bloc’s united front toward the junta’s brutal campaign in jeopardy.
Opponents of the regime had vowed to prevent Hun Sen’s visit. While unsuccessful in preventing it, protestors took to the streets to communicate their outrage. Cambodia’s ability to resolve this conflict remains unclear, with victims believing that his visit will do more harm than good.
At a different time, Cambodia may have been able to serve as an example for a future Myanmar that could recover from a brutal conflict and end its explicit persecution of religious minorities, however, now is not that time. Hun Sen’s Cambodia is no stranger to political purges having outlawed their own political opposition in 2017, leaving opposition forces without any expectations for a miracle. Instead, reports indicate that the Cambodian PM comes with additional aid to support the regime’s fight against COVID-19, thus strengthening the military while they block similar humanitarian aid to the opposition.
While Hun Sen’s intentions may be sold as noble, as he touts his ability as the new ASEAN chair to resolve the violence in Myanmar, he undoes a year of progress to deny the regime’s legitimacy and ensure that this conflict can be prevented in the future. Ethnic and religious violence have been recurring themes for Myanmar’s military, meaning the best way to protect Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities is to push for a systematic change which would restrict the Tatmadaw’s repeat attempts at control and continued persecution.
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