Cambodia Rejects Calls to Bar Myanmar Junta Minister From ASEAN Meeting


Cambodia has ignored an appeal by Myanmar-based as well as regional and international civil society organizations not to invite the Myanmar regime’s defense minister, who is responsible for the junta’s atrocities against civilians, to the upcoming ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM). The meeting, which is scheduled to be held in this week, will be joined by defense ministers from the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Cambodia currently holds the rotating chair of the bloc, of which Myanmar is a member. Since last week the letter has been signed by 677 Myanmar, regional and international civil organizations. It requests that the defense ministers of the other ASEAN countries not invite the regime’s defense minsiter, General Mya Tun Oo, to the meeting as it could embolden the junta, which has been committing extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, lootings and torchings of civilian properties in Myanmar since the coup last year. The letter said the general has played a leading role in the management of the military, which is responsible for committing ongoing crimes with total impunity. However, Cambodia said on Friday that as the chair of the meeting it has invited all ASEAN defense ministers, including the regime’s, to attend. “As we are the chair for this year, we have mentioned that ASEAN is 10, which makes it necessary to invite all ASEAN members. We also have the consensus from eight ASEAN countries,” General Nem Sowath, director-general of the General Department of Policy and Foreign Affairs at the Defense Ministry of Cambodia, said at a press conference, according to the Khmer Times. Since the Myanmar military’s coup against the elected civilian government, almost 700,000 people have been forcibly displaced as the junta wages a terror campaign against the Myanmar people. In the face of mass public resistance, the junta has murdered more than 1,900 people, arbitrarily arrested over 14,000 more, committed widespread torture, indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling, burnt villages and looted public property, said the letter. Mya Tun Oo has been sanctioned by the US, UK, EU, Canada and New Zealand for his responsibility for violations of international law. The UK said he has “command responsibility for these violations and can therefore be held responsible for these actions.” At the same time, further evidence of such horrendous atrocities has emerged. On Saturday, Radio Free Asia exposed the brutality of the junta’s troops in Saging Region by publishing a video in which a soldier says, “For us, we even killed a lot by slitting their throats,” describing a killing operation in the region. The international community, including the US and EU, have left it to ASEAN to deal with the Myanmar crisis as the regional body. However, its peace plan for Myanmar has been criticized for failing to halt the regime’s violence. Previously, ASEAN punished the junta by not inviting its leadership to regional summits. At the same time, there are divisions within the grouping, with some countries like Malaysia urging the bloc to reach out more to Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), rather than engaging with the junta. But current chair Cambodia is trying to engage more with the junta, insisting on promoting ASEAN solidarity. However, the Myanmar people see Cambodia as trying to legitimize the junta. Last week, NUG Defense Minister U Yee Mon wrote in The Diplomat that inviting junta defense officials to this month’s ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting would stain ASEAN’s reputation and deny the Myanmar people the recognition they deserve. “When ASEAN’s defense ministers meet, they would be wise to remember this: Do not underestimate us,” he said, referring to Myanmar’s ongoing popular armed resistance against the regime. More than one year on, the regime is still unable to control the country due to the widespread and unwavering armed resistance against it, especially in the country’s northwest, heartland and south, where local fighters have inflicted heavy casualties on junta troops. The NUG’s defense minister said the determination of the people’s fight for freedom is not a flame that can be extinguished through time, fear or violence. “Each day we grow stronger,” he added.