Protests erupted across Myanmar on Thursday ahead of the planned visit of rotating Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) chair and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, with activists angered over what they see as his support for the military regime and its repressive rule.
In Tanintharyi region’s Launglon township, students and other youths gathered early in the morning to express their disapproval with Hun Sen. A spokesman for the Dawei District Democracy Movement Strike Committee said that the visit would confer legitimacy on the junta that has failed to implement any steps to solve the country’s political crisis it agreed to in an April ASEAN meeting.
“He is the dictator of Cambodia. It is completely impossible for someone like him to mediate in our country’s affairs,” the spokesman said, as protesters stomped on photos of Hun Sen, which they later burned.
“The military junta has implemented none of the five-point ASEAN recommendations so far, so coming here to our country to mediate implementation of the recommendations means nothing to us. It won’t do any good and that’s why we are protesting.”
Protesters said that as a regular violator of human rights, Hun Sen is unlikely to hold the junta to account for their own abuses and expressed frustration for what they see as his support for the military regime.
Hun Sen, who assumed ASEAN chairmanship in October, and Special Envoy to Myanmar Prasat Khun were initially scheduled to arrive in Myanmar on Jan. 7 to meet with junta chief Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. However, on Thursday the visit was moved to Jan. 8. Myanmar’s military regime has yet to release any statement on the change.
A source close to Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, told RFA’s Myanmar Service he was unsure whether the Cambodian government had postponed the trip but that the junta had not.
In recent days, three bombs have been set off near the Cambodian Embassy in Yangon in protest of Hun Sen, while leaflets decrying the visit were distributed in Burmese, English and Khmer near the site. Armed groups have warned that they will not be responsible for the security of any diplomats who recognize the military government, while earlier this week, hundreds of anti-junta groups issued a statement urging Hun Sen to call off the visit.
On Wednesday, Hun Sen dismissed the suggestion that he would be soft on Myanmar, despite concerns that the trip — the first by a foreign leader since Myanmar’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup — would bolster Min Aung Hlaing, whose forces stand accused of committing widespread atrocities since the takeover.
Min Aung Hlaing initially signaled to ASEAN that he would end the violence in his country and allow the bloc to send an envoy to monitor the situation following an emergency meeting in April. However, after months of failing to implement any steps to do so, relations between the two sides have spiraled down, with ASEAN choosing not to invite junta delegations to several high-profile meetings, including its annual summit.
Meanwhile, more than 8,400 civilians have been arrested and 1,443 killed by junta authorities since February, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, mostly during non-violent protests of the coup.
‘No benefit to the people’
Boh Nagar, a leading member of Sagaing region’s Depayin Township Revolutionary Strike Committee, told RFA that more than 1,000 locals took part in anti-Hun Sen protests in four different locations in Depayin on Wednesday and Thursday.
“We protested for two days. It was a protest under the headline, ‘Hun Sen must not set foot in Myanmar,’” he said.
“Our people still do not accept the coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and his minions. They are not recognized [as the country’s leaders].”
Nearly 500 villagers from the Sagaing townships of Yinmabin and Salingyi also protested Thursday over Hun Sen’s visit.
“We are here to show our opposition against the Cambodian dictator Hun Sen, who is giving support to Myanmar’s military dictator,” one of the protest leaders told RFA.
“We are here to tell Hun Sen not to come to our country because we don’t recognize his support for the junta.”
The group, which has been protesting daily against the coup, protested Hun Sen’s visit today. A protest leader in Sagaing’s Kalay township told RFA that Hun Sen’s visit “will not benefit the people of Myanmar in any way.”
“He is a guy who wants to work hand in glove with the coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and we cannot accept it at all because it comes in the form of recognizing the junta,” the protest leader said.
Meanwhile, as authorities prepared to welcome Hun Sen to the capital Naypyidaw, a resident said that security had been drastically upgraded, with roads closed to traffic near hotels for state guests and police and soldiers deployed along the route from the airport.
“Fully armed soldiers are guarding every road and alley,” said the resident, who declined to be named. “Police and military vehicles are patrolling the city. Security is very tight.”
Barbed wire barricades on the Pyinmana-Taungnyo Road in Naypyidaw, which had been closed since the coup last year, were removed on Thursday. The road was the site of huge anti-coup protests in February and a young woman named Mya Thwei Thwei Khaing became one of the first civilians to die after being shot in the head by police.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.