Malaysian PM discusses Myanmar crisis during Cambodia visit

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

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob met with 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 10=nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has been 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 the chair of ASEAN this year, and Hun Sen has sought to engage Myanmar’s generals in a conciliatory manner. In January, he became the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar since the military takeover, which critics say lent legitimacy to the army’s rule in a situation that some U.N. experts have termed a civil war.

Malaysia is one of several members of the regional group which have taken a harder line toward Myanmar’s military government for its failure to implement a five-point ASEAN consensus on promoting peace.

In their talks, Hun Sen and Ismail both endorsed the five-point plan and Malaysia fully supported the work of ASEAN’s special envoy on Myanmar, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, the two countries said in a joint statement.

They also discussed tensions in the South China Sea and “geopolitical rivalry among major powers,” the statement said. Many ASEAN members strongly dispute China’s claim to wide swaths of the South China Sea, but Cambodia, China’s closest ally in the region and without claims of its own, has been lukewarm in supporting its fellow members’ positions.

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

Hun Sen responded that Malaysia’s foreign minister should not be “arrogant” and disrespectful of the ASEAN chair.

Ismail also raised the issue of people displaced from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the statement said. More than 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority fled from Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by Myanmar’s security forces, which were accused of mass rapes and killings and the burning of thousands of homes.

In a post-meeting news conference, Hun Sen said Cambodia and Malaysia will promote “bilateral trade, investment, education, human resources and tourism, in order to upgrade the economies of the two countries after the end of COVID-19.”